Meet: Lester Oliveros

I haven't done the research on this, so let me ask you: how often does the Player To Be Named Later turn out to be more interesting than what you might call the primary return? It's probably not too much of a stretch to answer: not very often. But I mentioned on Sunday that I thought Lester Oliveros has potential to be a bigger contributor to the Twins than Cole Nelson.

Oliveros, who was signed by the Tigers as an undrafted free agent in 2005 at age 17, is a hard-throwing, three-pitch right hander from Maracay, Venezuela. He's about to appear in his second stint in the Majors, following nine appearances with Detroit in July.

Debuting with the shared foreign rookie team for the Tigers and Marlins in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2006 (posting the fourth-best opponent average in the league that season at .188), he appeared in 20 contests and started in two (the only two starts on his minor league career), setting a tone that would be reflected in the coming years. He retired 46 batters on strikes in just 39.2 innings, but he also walked 20. Those walks were off-set by low hit rates, but it's all a common thread.

More on the history of Oliveros, and a scouting report, after the jump.

In 2007 he was once again fourth the league in batting average against (.181) but led the league in strikeouts per nine innings (13.9). After throwing four innings in the winter league that season he was promoted to low-A Oneota to kick off 2008 before earning a promotion to high-A Lakeland late in the year. He'd stay there for a vast majority of 2009 before making the jump all the way to triple-A for a single game at season's end. His level-skipping cup of coffee was due in no small part to the great year he'd put together for Lakeland including exceptionally strong months of May, June and August. In his two innings with triple-A he struck out three, walked one and didn't allow a run. At 21, Oliveros had clearly caught the eye of the Tiger(s).

Going into the 2010 season, Detroit sent the 21-year old Oliveros to the Venezuelan Winter League. No doubt Detroit was eyeing him up to see where he was at for the coming year, but unfortunately he didn't have a good time. The strikeouts were still there (19 in 20.1 innings), but in 16 appearances he allowed 13 runs and finished the winter with a 5.75 ERA.

Possibly as a result of that disappointing performance, Oliveros began '10 back in high-A Lakeland once again. He went right back to killing opposing hitters, posting 24 strikeouts in 19 innings and walking six. 20 appearances and a 1.84 ERA was good enough to get him a promotion to double-A Erie for the first time at age 22. In 25.1 innings the hits weren't a problem, and he still struck out more than a batter per inning, but walks were once again out of control.

It was the first month in Erie that wrecked the overall line. His promotion came in late June, but one month later a switch must have flipped. From July 24 to August 22 he struck out 25 batters in 14 innings, allowing just two runs. The 4.97 ERA is indicative of the whole stint at double-A in 2010, but for that month Oliveros was unhittable. And this time it wasn't just the Tigers who noticed, as Baseball America ranked him Detroit's 17th best prospect going into 2011.

So, this past winter he was once again showcased in the Venezuelan Winter League. This time, he impressed. He struck out 20 in 25.2 innings, which was a bit low for him, but his 3.86 ERA was far more digestible. Detroit sent him to double-A to start 2011, where he was too good to not promote. Opponents were hitting .193 off him through 17 innings, he'd struck out 28 and walked just four, and his ERA was a pristine 0.53.

He'd struggle in what was his first stint to triple-A, overall striking out 26 in 28 innings for Toledo but allowing 37 hits (seven homers) and 17 walks. When the Tigers needed a reliever in July they still called on Oliveros, whose last two Major League appearances came against the Twins. They sent him back to Toledo, where he was when the Twins plucked him as the PTBNL in the Delmon Young salary dump.

No doubt you're seeing a pattern here: pitcher struggles in first stint after promotion, then adjusts and pitches better. But there's an over-arching profile here, too.

Level

ERA

Games

Innings

WHIP

H/9

HR/9

BB/9

K/9

K:BB

F-Rook (VSL) 2.08 47 78.0 1.12 6.2 0.2 3.8 12.1 3.2
Low A 1.74 15 20.2 1.02 6.5 0.4 2.6 14.8 5.7
High A 3.66 59 83.2 1.30 8.4 0.5 3.3 9.1 2.7
Double A 3.19 34 42.1 1.32 6.6 0.6 5.3 13.6 2.6
Triple A 5.73 25 33.0 1.79 11.2 2.2 4.9 9.0 1.8


Season-to-season there are ups and downs, but the profile remains. Oliveros misses a lot of bats. He also misses the strike zone.

In his eight innings with the Tigers in July, Oliveros carried that profile over to the Major Leagues. Against the most difficult opposition his weaknesses were magnified and he walked and struck out four in eight innings, also surrendering eight hits en route to five runs. None of them were off the long ball.

If the 142 pitches that he threw in those eight innings (nine appearances) are any indication, we can tell a little bit about the 23-year old flame thrower. Against left-handed hitters he's almost exclusively fastball-changeup and tends to stay away quite a bit. If he can adjust his command and get to me a little more accurate, with that fastball he'd be able to come inside more often. Right now it's a dangerous place, because if he doesn't get inside enough he'll just be serving up a 95 mph fastball on a silver platter. Against righties he abandons the changeup completely and replaces it with his slider, which is a good pitch. He tries to catch the strikezone low-and-away with that pitch, and helps set it up with high fastballs. More than 20% of his pitches to right-handed hitters are either directly over the strike zone (high), or up and in.

Ron Gardenhire just mentioned that the Twins were likely to non-tender Delmon at season's end, so if the Twins can get anything for him then it has to be seen as a marginal victory. Does it erase the Delmon-for-Matt Garza trade, which can now be accurately and fully dubbed as a fiasco by Bill Smith? Absolutely not. But anytime you can retrieve value for a negative asset above and beyond simply dropping that negative asset, then you have to be happy. Hopefully, Oliveros can be that guy.

As for Cole Nelson, I'm happy to wait and see.

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