It’s difficult to be surprised when Andy Oliver goes out against major league hitters and is unable to get them out. In 31 big league innings, Oliver has walked 21 hitters, while also surrendering 37 hits. In case you’re scoring at home, a 1.8 WHIP is not very good. While I understand that’s a small sample size, his AAA numbers from last year paint a similar picture, he walked 5 guys per 9 innings in addition to surrendering a hit per inning as well. At some point, the “stuff” has to match the results and with Oliver’s inconsistent delivery/mechanics and release point, It’s hard to imagine Oliver becoming a viable rotation option for the Tigers, this spring was his carpe diem time, with four solid starters and two highly ranked prospects above him. It’s become undeniably apparent, that the former highly regarded prospect has hit a wall in his development, the good news is, it’s not too late to get some value out of him.
Teams love left handed power pitchers, especially ones that start. That’s because they’re difficult to find. Oliver features a repertoire of a 92-96 MPH fastball and a slider that flashes possibilities, although I’ve never seen him throw it for a strike. Suffice to say, his command is a work in progress. Oliver is reminiscent of former Tiger Wil Ledezma, a promising left handed starting pitching prospect in the early-mid 2000’s with electric stuff, who could never quite grasp the concept of throwing the ball over the plate. The Tigers eventually held onto Ledezma for too long, and he was eventually traded for another hard throwing left hander who had no clue where the ball was going, Macay McBride. Whether Oliver is unable to unable to repeat his mechanics, can’t process the instruction his pitching coaches provide, or is just not wired to consistently throw the ball over the plate, he has now become an enigma wrapped in a mystery to the Tiger brass. However, at this point, he’s young enough to still be considered a viable starting pitching prospect to some other MLB team and that is what the Tigers need to take advantage of right now.
There is a similar situation to Oliver’s going on in Toronto these days. Former top prospect (#11 in 2008, #6 in 2009)Travis Snider
was recently optioned to AAA, after failing to win the starting LF job. This will be Snider’s 4th stint in AAA, and he will be out of options after this season, meaning the Blue Jays will either have to play him in the major leagues, or place him on waivers if they wish to demote him, and the chances of him not being claimed are remote. Sproting a .957 career OPS in AAA and a .730 OPS in the majors, including a .616 in 202 PA last season, Snider is currently the definition of a four A player. Needless to say, Snider is quickly falling out of favor in Toronto and his stock is dwindling as quickly as Oliver’s.
This could be a perfect match for both teams. Snider is the left handed two way corner OF the Tigers have been looking for. He could platoon with Raburn in LF, as his sweet left handed swing has helped him hit for a .767 OPS against major league right handers, and even some power, a .192 ISO. It’s difficult to imagine Snider getting much playing time this season or for years to come, with Eric Thames and Jose Bautista looking like long term solutions in the corners. With no clear answer in LF, the Tigers have nothing to lose by finding out if Snider can hold a job down. He may need another voice in his ear, another hitting coordinator, manager, or hitting coach to help him achieve his potential. He won’t have to look over his shoulder every day, concerned that if he plays poorly, he’s going to be sent to Toledo. On Toronto’s side, Oliver could join the plethora of high ceiling, hard throwing talent they already have. He clearly isn’t ready to pitch in the majors, and maybe another development staff, a different pitching coach or coordinator, and maybe even a different philosophy altogether could help get his career back on track.
Realistically, the Tigers would probably have to add another prospect or two in their 10-20 range to get the deal done, depending on what Toronto is looking for. Maybe they’d want Dirks/Thomas, who would be expendable if Snider came on board. This is the type of deal that two very good GM’s, Dave Dombrowski and Alex Anthopoulos could easily get done in order to help their respective teams going forward.