Pitcher Andy Oliver focused on the presentWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Being Andy Oliver can’t be easy, especially these days.
After all, when Baseball America ranks you as the third best prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization, you are bound to turn a few heads when you walk into a room.
During the annual Mud Hens media day, Oliver was the event’s star attraction. Every news outlet in town was pounced in prime position, waiting to speak with the 23-year-old.
“It kind of comes with the territory,” Oliver said. “There’s been a lot of attention because expectations for me are what they are.”
The left-hander has been on the baseball radar for quite a while now. Originally drafted in 2006 by Minnesota, Oliver turned down the Twins to pitch at the collegiate level for Oklahoma State, where he was an All-American for the Cowboys.
“The biggest thing for me was becoming more experienced,” Oliver said about why he chose college. “I think there were plenty of moments and things I got to take part in at Oklahoma State that I wouldn’t have been able to in the minors.”
The Vermilion, Ohio, native would be drafted again in 2009, this time in the second round by the Detroit Tigers, who thought of him highly enough to assign him to their Double-A affiliate Erie for his first full professional season.
Oliver rewarded the Tigers for their faith in his abilities by going 6-4 with a 3.61 ERA in 14 starts with the SeaWolves. What was even more impressive was Oliver’s 70 strikeouts in 77.1 innings pitched.
The Tigers liked what they saw so much they purchased Oliver’s contract from Erie so they could see where their budding superstar was at.
But Oliver’s time in the majors was not nearly as successful. In five starts, he was 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA.
“I learned a lot about what I needed to work on in Detroit,” Oliver said. “I think I learned that my approach to the game needed to be better. There was a lot more I could get away with in Double-A that I couldn’t get away with in the big leagues.”
He was demoted and sent to Toledo, where he worked on perfecting his craft for the remainder of the 2010 season. He had moderate success in Triple-A, making nine starts for a 3-4 record with a 3.23 ERA.
Heading into this season, Oliver was expected to compete for a spot in the Tigers starting rotation. Despite a strong spring, the Tigers front office opted to have him start the season with the Mud Hens.
While starting in Toledo may not have been Oliver’s first choice, he isn’t acting like it. When speaking with him, it’s clear his focus is on getting himself and the Hens off to a good start.
“I am excited to start the season, and I am just trying to help this team win some games. I think I have what it takes to pitch in the major leagues, but right now I am going to focus on pitching well and being a leader in the locker room.”
Try as he might, it’s hard to deny the grand plans the Tigers and their fans have for Oliver. To say the expectations are high is a bit of an understatement. If any of the current starting pitchers struggle or get injured, the consensus is Oliver will get the first crack at filling the vacancy.
But whatever the expectations might be, Oliver isn’t paying attention.
“They are always going to be there, but you just can’t think about that stuff,” he said. “If you dedicate any time to thinking about them, it will start affecting your performance. I have such a higher set of expectations for myself anyway.
“It is all about getting a good start. I worked on my slider in the spring and that needs to get better. My consistency needs to get better, and I need to keep working hard.”
At the end of the day, Oliver knows that no matter what the timetable for his return to Detroit, he can only control one thing — how he plays.
“My mind is here. I am here to help this team win, and if and when I get called back up to the Tigers, it will happen when it happens.”