In a year when the Tigers have four rookies in their starting lineup on some nights, and one of the youngest pitching staffs in baseball to go with it, it's only fitting that they had two more youngsters named to next month's Futures Game -- even if only one of them will be around for it. Double-A Erie starting pitcher Andy Oliver, just called up to Detroit, and outfielder Wilkin Ramirez were selected to baseball's annual showcase of top prospects at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
It marks the first time since 2007 that the Tigers have multiple players on the Futures rosters, something that was a regular occurrence for a few years in the middle of the decade. Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya both took part in the game before they made it in the big leagues.
For Ramirez, it marks a return to the event two years after he took part in the game at the old Yankee Stadium. For Oliver, whether he's around for it or not, it marks a first for someone who wasn't even playing pro ball a year ago.
The 12th annual Futures Game can be seen live on MLB.TV, ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD and followed live on MLB.com's Gameday. In addition, XM Radio will broadcast play-by-play coverage of the event live on XM 175. MLB.com will also provide complete coverage before, during and after the game.
While a return to the Futures Game might seem like an odd step, it's a bit of redemption for Ramirez, who began the season with a demotion to Double-A after spending last year with Triple-A Toledo. While he was crowded out of a Tigers outfield picture that included rookie sensation Brennan Boesch, highly-regarded prospects Ryan Strieby and Casper Wells, and multiple-time callup Clete Thomas, Ramirez also was sent with the goal of learning center field, where his speed and natural athleticism could provide him with more of an advantage.
Once Boesch established himself in Detroit and Thomas suffered a season-ending knee injury, Ramirez returned to Toledo, where he has tried to establish his place once again. He entered Monday with just a .235 average combined between Erie and Toledo, striking out 92 times in 251 at-bats, but more than half of his hits have gone for extra bases -- 16 home runs, 10 doubles and five triples.
Those contrasting numbers can sum up Ramirez's career so far. He has his ups and downs, but his potential is a constant. But after seven professional seasons and 15 Major League games -- all of them last year in Detroit -- he doesn't turn 25 years old until October.
"He continues to be a very talented individual," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday. "He's the type of guy that you're always hoping that at some point he's just going to put it all together. If he does, then he has the chance to be a star."
While Ramirez was repeating development at Erie, Oliver was essentially beginning his Tigers career there. The Tigers drafted the left-hander with a second-round pick last year, once he dropped down other teams' lists. Though Oliver's numbers at Oklahoma State were disappointing last spring, Detroit saw promise that he could join its ranks of talented young arms in the system.
Oliver didn't get started until the Arizona Fall League at the end of last season, but once the Tigers challenged him with an immediate assignment to Double-A out of Spring Training, Oliver took advantage. He rebounded from an up-and-down April to post a 3.12 ERA in his next 10 outings, six of them quality starts. He tossed three of those consecutively in May, scattering four runs on 16 hits over 20 1/3 innings, with four walks and 18 strikeouts.
With seven home runs allowed over 77 1/3 innings heading into this week, Oliver has generally avoided the long-ball danger that befalls many young pitchers in the smaller ballparks of the Eastern League. Now he'll try to keep that going in Atlanta, where the summer heat can carry balls out.
"This kid, he's got good stuff," Dombrowski continued. "There are not many pitchers that have his quality of stuff. I mean, his fastball is way above average. He's got quality, and now he's been able to incorporate those other pitches. He's a quick learner. He's a hard worker. But it doesn't take long to know that he has quality stuff. There aren't a lot of left-handed starters in Major League Baseball who have his fastball."
Now Oliver is a part of the big leagues, having been selected to start for the Tigers on Friday at Atlanta. He won't be around to take part in the Futures Game if he's still with the Tigers, but plenty could happen between now and then.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less