By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Hector Olivera, Outfielder, Atlanta Braves
2015 season (Minors): 35 G, 125 AB, .272 BA, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB, .702 OPS
2015 season (Majors): 24 G, 79 AB, .253 BA, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 0 SB, .715 OPS
Of the 30 Major League teams, none are in more of a true rebuild than the Atlanta Braves entering the 2016 season. After winning the National League East title in ‘13, Atlanta endured a bad season in ‘14 before sweeping front office changes that September. Since then, a complete overhaul of the club has taken place. The focus is on rebuilding the Minor League system — four of Atlanta’s top five prospects, as ranked by MLB.com, were acquired last season in trades.
With new blood on the rise, Hector Olivera is a unique part of the Braves’ rebuild. Signed out of Cuba by the Dodgers last season to a six-year, $62.5 million contract, Olivera endured a whirlwind first year in the states. After moving to the Braves, he played for five different Minor League clubs across four levels before joining the big club as a September callup. He went on to start the majority of the Braves’ games at third base that month, putting up respectable numbers for his first taste of the Majors.
Olivera enters Spring Training projected as the Braves’ starting left fielder, a new position for the soon-to-be 31-year-old. To get the best idea of what to expect of Olivera, it’s probably best to look at his numbers from the Cuban National Series, where he was one of the most well-rounded hitters for a number of years. In 2011, one of his best years, he hit .341 (the third season he managed an average above .340) with a 1.088 OPS and 17 homers in 60 games. He missed the entire 2012 season with a blood disorder, but bounced back in ‘13 with another solid season, though his power numbers were down. There was concern that the thrombosis in his left biceps, as was reported out of Cuba, may have sapped his strength, limiting him at the plate and sapping his plus arm strength.
Despite the concerns, Olivera got his contract and now has his first chance to be an everyday Major League player. The opportunity to settle in with a role, putting the uncertainty and irregularity of last season aside, should help.
Like many of his fellow Cuban nationals, Olivera’s power is his biggest tool. He did manage the two homers and four doubles in just 79 at-bats last season, and Fangraphs’ Steamer projections, which always err on the side of caution, have him with 12 home runs and 57 RBIs in 118 games. Should he manage to stay healthy, 15-plus homers won’t be out of the question as a mainstay in the middle of a weak Braves lineup. The chance for RBIs and runs will likely be minimal, but Olivera could end up being one of the strongest hitters on the club in his first full year.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.