April 02, 2016

What do we know about Hector Olivera?

It seems a large swath of the Braves’ fan base are cautiously optimistic on Hector Olivera this spring, after being unimpressed with what they saw at the end of last season.  Olivera slashed .253/.310/.405 in 87 major league plate appearances and .231/.286/.308 in 42 plate appearances in Gwinnett last season.  In all his time in the minor last season, he slashed .272/.326/.376 in 135 plate appearances, a far cry from the .323/.407/.505 line he posted in 10 seasons, 642 games and 3,269 plate appearances in the Cuban National Series.

The most obvious bit of good news is that 642 games and 3,269 plate appearances is a lot larger of a sample than 35 minor league games and 24 major league games.  That still doesn’t factor in age or that the Cuban National Series isn’t on par with the higher levels of pro ball in the United States.  But he performed in a baseball league with some similarities to a professional league.

Another plus is that all the write-ups from writers who talk to scouts and other front office personnel seem to suggest that Olivera has the tools and skills to be a fine major leaguer.  This doesn’t mean he’s a sure bet, of course.  A scout is going by a player’s tools displayed, size, body type, and maybe he has a decent idea about the player’s make-up.

Scouting has its limitations.  We don’t want to use the limitations of scouting as an excuse to give scouts  a pass when they are wrong in their projections of players.  That’s kind of the point, after all.  But we also want to acknowledge that there are legitimate limitations to what they are trying to do.  All that’s to say it’s difficult to extract the useful information and know how to interpret a scouting report, much less a write-up from someone who is not a scout but is listening to what scouts are saying.  All of that just makes it harder to know whether what we’ve seen of Olivera so far is a sign of things to come or if he’ll get better.

What we do know is that Olivera has impressive tools, athleticism, and he’s performed over a large sample in the Cuban National Series, but not in a limited sample in U.S. pro ball.  We also know this is what the Braves owe him over the length of the rest of his contract:

$4 million in 2016
$6 million in 2017
$6.5 million in 2018
$7.5 million in 2019
$8.5 million in 2020
(Club option for $1 million in 2021 if Olivera undergoes Tommy John surgery at any point)

If Olivera is a decent regular, even if he’s something like an average or a second-division regular, the contract looks reasonable. Of course they gave up players to get him so it’s not quite as simple as just the contract.  But even with that, considering there are some real risks with the players they gave up, there’s some room for error.

There’s probably more uncertainty with the players the Braves gave up than we realized when the trade was made.  Now that Alex Wood is gone, I think it’s easier for Braves fans to see his warts: a solid, mid-rotation guy with a funky delivery that is a bit scary, in terms of injury risks.  Jose Peraza looks like a legit major league contributor but it doesn’t look like he’ll reach the ceiling some thought he would.  They gave up a few months of Jim Johnson (and brought him back after he was released by the Dodgers).  Luis Avilan is a nice piece but he’s now set to make $1.39 million next season, a fairly significant sum of money for a reliever, especially if he had stayed with a Braves team not likely to contend.

Olivera doesn’t look like he’ll hit for much power.  His swing path doesn’t seem to be conducive to power and his tendency to wrap the bat before his swing might hold him back from hitting for a very high batting average.  But because of his size, strength and quickness and the fact that he keeps his bat in the zone for a long time, he should be able to hit for some extra-base power, though he might struggle to post a high enough average to be a star hitter, without hitting for more power.  We shouldn’t expect much from his defense, as he’s been an infielder his whole career.  Still, he has the athleticism to avoid embarrassing himself.

The Braves might not get what they hoped for but, when all is said and done, there’s a good chance they’ll have a decent player whom they don’t have to pay that much and that probably won’t end up having cost them that much in terms of the players they lost.  It might not be exciting but in the end I think the trade will have worked out fine for the Braves.




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