|Chris Oliver, image- MiLB.com|
Fresh out of his outstanding junior season with Arkansas in which he sported a 9-4 record with a 2.51 ERA and a .213 batting average against in 16 starts last year in the highly competitive Souteastern Conference, Oliver had a disappointing campaign in his initial exposure to the professional ranks.
In nine minor league appearances last year, the six-foot-four 170-pounder tallied a 0-2 record with an 8.66 ERA and a .321 batting average against.
The downturn in results did not concern the Phillies. As Oliver explains, some mechanical alterations to his delivery and a switch from offering a curve ball to throwing a slider, mandated by coaches, were responsible for the dip in production.
"Mechanically, last year they wanted me to drop my arm slot a little bit. I tried it. It just didn't work out for me. Now, I'm back over the top. The thing we really focused on this year was getting more rotation with the hips. It's a lot more comfortable, a lot smoother," Oliver stated.
Lack of success snowballed for Oliver, who says struggles on the mound resulted in a disruption in his focus.
He credits his current pitching coach with the BlueClaws, former Phillies reliever Aaron Fultz, who coached him last season with short-season Class A Williamsport, with helping him iron things out.
"I kind of got out of hand, just my mentality," Oliver said. "I was really kind of frustrated all the time, because my stuff wasn't there, but Fultzy helped me through it. He talked to me on a day to day basis, and helped me with what I needed to focus on."
Fultz, who is in his fourth season involved with the Phils' player development, raves about Oliver's secondary offerings. Equipped with a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball (velocity mostly in low 90's), a change up and the newly added slider, which Oliver claims as his go-to pitch, the 21-year-old is a promising hurler to watch in the minors this year.
In his season debut this week against Greensboro (Marlins), Oliver notched his first professional win, throwing five strong innings, striking out five while allowing two walks and surrendering a lone earned run.
As a 20-year-old, Oliver was arrested just prior to last year's amateur draft on drunk driving charges, but it didn't interfere with him signing quickly, as he was inked by the Phillies within a week of the draft for a reported signing bonus of $550,000.
Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan has positive things to say about Oliver's progress since last June.
"Chris has come a long way," Jordan said this week. "We didn't really see the right guy last summer and that happens a lot. Sometimes when you have college players, they've had their season. They've logged their innings and sometimes you just don't see that guy that the scouts saw.
"I think his time in the instructional league got him back on track and he was open and receptive to some things that he needed to do. And really in spring training...I saw a lot of adjustments from the guy we saw last summer. He's gonna have a good year for us. He's in a good place."
With his own comfort level on high, as well as having the confidence of his coaches and the support of the organization's brass, look for Oliver to continue to take strides this year in the BlueClaws' starting rotation and potentially become a must-know prospect name in the coming seasons.