Detroit Tigers prospect Reese Olson looks to go from strikeout machine to MLB pitcher

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — In a recent team meeting, Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch asked pitching prospect Reese Olson about his Instagram followers.

Olson, a 23-year-old right-hander who set the Double-A Erie strikeout record last season, wasn’t exactly sure how many people followed him. Maybe 2,000? Maybe more, maybe less?

He didn’t know.

But Hinch knew.

“He had it on a sheet of paper,” Olson said.

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The next question: Which pitcher in the clubhouse has the most followers? The answer to that question: Michael Lorenzen with about 92,000 followers — roughly 90,000 more than Olson.

Hinch asked Lorenzen, a veteran right-handed pitcher, to help Olson gain more followers in spring training. For a couple days, Lorenzen urged his followers to boost Olson’s popularity. He even posted a photo of them together near the bullpens at the Tigers’ spring training facility, captioned: “Please give this stud (@reese_olson) a follow! He’s going to punch so many tickets this year.”

“His stuff is really good,” Lorenzen said. “He’s going to be really good, so it’ll make me look good. I knew before everyone else.”

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Olson’s repertoire of pitches is strong, highlighted by his elite changeup, but through improving his fastball command and adding a new pitch, he should be even better this season. The Tigers protected him from the Rule 5 draft by adding him to the 40-man roster in November.

The roster move opens the door for the Tigers to promote him for his MLB debut at some point in 2023, even if he ends up pitching out of the bullpen.

Olson posted a 4.14 ERA with 38 walks and 168 strikeouts over 119⅔ innings in 26 games (25 starts) for Double-A Erie, a performance that featured a whopping 34.7% swing-and-miss rate. He finished second to San Francisco Giants right-hander Kai-Wei Teng, who tossed 16⅔ more innings but just one more strikeout, for the most strikeouts in the Eastern League last season.

Fastball execution and pitch selection are the next steps in his development.

“I learned a lot about who I am as a pitcher,” Olson said. “I had a really good start, and then in July, I had a pretty big struggle, and then I got back to what I was good at toward the end of the year. But it’s good to know that I’m good enough.”

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The Tigers, under former general manager Al Avila, acquired him from the Milwaukee Brewers for left-hander Daniel Norris at the 2021 trade deadline. He learned his filthy changeup in the Brewers’ pitching lab and throws the pitch with a one-seam grip.

The changeup entered his arsenal in 2021.

Last season, Olson threw 2,122 pitches — almost the same number as his follower count on Instagram — and spent 514 of them on changeups. His best pitch, which averaged just south of 88 mph, generated a 46% swing-and-miss rate and 37.6% chase rate.

Olson also throws a slider and curveball. His slider, another pitch he learned in the Brewers’ lab, recorded a 51.2% whiff rate and 33% chase rate.

He trimmed his walks, from 4.4 per nine innings in 2021 to 2.9 per nine in 2022, and increased his strikeouts, from 9.8 per nine in 2021 to 12.6 per nine in 2022. Despite those positive signs, his ERA jumped from 3.96 to 4.14 between the two seasons.

The reason: Opponents tagged his fastball inside the strike zone.

“He got in bad counts,” Hinch said. “He threw ball one with his offspeed quite a bit, and then he had a choice to make. The more he fell behind, the more he threw hitter-count fastballs. It’s a good fastball, but it has to be paired with his secondary pitches in the right counts.”

His fastball, distinct from his other pitches, averaged 94.3 mph with a 15.8% swing-and-miss rate inside the strike zone.

Olson offered his opinion.

“A lot of it has to do with the command of it, not getting to where it needs to be in the zone,” he said. “A little bit of that comes from trying to be too perfect, and that leads to some big misses.”

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On the bright side, Olson’s fastball has the potential to be a plus pitch. Since he likes to work down in the strike zone, he added a sinker this offseason to force hitters to think about a different heater during games. The new pitch could be the key to unlocking his best in-zone four-seam fastball.

He has thrown his sinker a few times off the mound, so it’s a work in progress.

“It’s feeling pretty good,” he said.

He also weighs 190 pounds.

“I’ve added a few pounds this offseason,” he said.

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Olson looks like the youngest player in the Tigers’ clubhouse, even though that honor belongs to 21-year-old third baseman Colt Keith.

Still, Hinch thinks the second-youngest pitcher on the 40-man roster looks comfortable around his peers, possibly because he has veterans like Lorenzen in his corner. When Lorenzen was establishing himself, he learned from veterans like Johnny Cueto, Jared Hughes and Brayan Peña. They were instrumental in his development.

Now, Olson is soaking up information from Lorenzen.

That’s the most important part of his first big-league spring training, and if he takes the next step as a pitcher, he could contribute to the Tigers this season.

“It’s awesome to have guys like that,” Olson said. “He has been a great dude so far, and he has been through everything. It’s great to have someone like that to lean on.”

Maybe he’ll pick up some Instagram followers along the way?

“That’s right,” Olson said, laughing.

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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