Olson happy to finesse his way through Minor League lineups

May 12th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Christina De Nicola’s Marlins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MIAMI -- Marlins No. 28 prospect is trying to buck the trend of velocity reigning supreme.

A finesse southpaw, Olson has broken out during his first professional season, despite wielding a fastball that hovers in the low-90s and peaks at 95 mph.

“If you look at MLB, a lot of guys are still throwing 91-94, 92-95 [mph],” Olson said. “There's also guys throwing 103. Velo training is definitely a thing you've got to work on and adapt to. You can't just be throwing 88 [mph] and go out there and expect to get outs, because it's BP at that point. You have to adapt, but you can't just only think about velocity.

“You see guys doing that and they throw an inning and they have three walks and a home run, because they can only throw one pitch at 100 [mph]. The day and age is evolving. I see high schoolers throwing harder than me, which is insane. You can't really think about it. That doesn't make you, you. You can't make it define you.”

Olson, whom the Marlins selected in the fourth round of last July’s MLB Draft, began to open eyes after trying out for Team USA during his sophomore year at the University of Nebraska. In his words, he was just another kid throwing average stuff until then.

Since Olson already had thrown 82 innings for the Huskers in 2023, he made just one appearance for the Rookie-level Florida Complex League Marlins to open his professional career. A long layoff made Olson crave a return to the mound even more after training over the offseason at his alma mater.

The 21-year-old Olson made the wait pay off, tossing 16 scoreless innings across his first three starts for Single-A Jupiter in 2024. He struck out 19 batters and walked just four, compiling a 0.75 WHIP. Before promoting him to High-A Beloit, director of player development Rachel Balkovec was quick to single out Olson as an under-the-radar prospect grabbing attention throughout the organization.

“Just being in the zone,” Balkovec said. “His results are very good, but what we believe -- and I think what many people believe anyways -- is throwing strikes is the way in. He does have good stuff, but obviously if you have good stuff, that's not going to matter at some level if you can't throw strikes. It's been pretty impressive from him.”

What Olson might lack in elite velocity he makes up for in other aspects.

The fast-working Olson attacks all quadrants with 50-grade control (on the 20-80 scouting scale) to keep hitters off-balance. His arsenal consists of a big curveball (50 grade) and a tighter slider (50 grade). Olson’s fastball (45 grade) doesn't sink or run, rather it rides up. He works the fastball up in the zone to complement the curveball on the bottom part, and he tries to tunnel the curve and slider. The changeup (50 grade) goes the opposite way and higher up in the zone.

Olson focused on developing the changeup this winter, but it stopped being effective two weeks into the season. When pitching coordinator Tommy Phelps recently visited Beloit, he showed Olson the grip he used in his playing career. Not only did it click for Olson, but he “used it a bunch” in his most recent start.

His coachability is another way to make up for any lack of velocity. The pitching coordinators also recommended Olson move from the right to the left side of the pitching rubber because the analytics said his stuff would play differently. He questioned them at first because of his success, then rolled with it.

Olson has remained dominant at the High-A level. He joined the Sky Carp on May 1 and extended his scoreless streak to 21 2/3 innings. Though it ended his last time out on Wednesday, Olson permitted just one run on three hits with eight strikeouts and two walks across six innings. Funny enough, Olson was relieved because it had become something he thought about 24/7.

“It's the same game,” Olson said. “You can't make it bigger than it is, and that's when things spiral again if you make it bigger than it is. So you’ve just got to take a deep breath sometimes and just trust your stuff and trust the people on your team, because we're all professionals at the end of the day.”

Here’s a roundup of other notable performances from the full-season affiliates:

Triple-A Jacksonville: INF (No. 17 prospect)
The 21-year-old had three multi-hit games this past week, including a four-hit performance with two doubles on Tuesday. He struck out once, walked twice and drove in three during this stretch.

Double-A Pensacola: RHP (NR)
Fitterer, 23, has not given up a run in each of his last three starts. He has struck out 15 and walked seven across 18 2/3 innings, permitting seven hits -- one for extra bases.

Single-A Jupiter: RHP (No. 1, MLB Pipeline’s No. 50 overall)
Meyer, 19, has tossed consecutive scoreless outings. In 10 innings, he has fanned 14 and walked three while allowing just three hits.