One of the latest Cuban imports, may also serve to be one of the most mysterious. Hector Olivera signed with the Dodgers last season for a cool $62.5 million and the signing was surrounded by much intrigue . Now one would think, that a team willing to dish that kind of money out for him would covet him greatly. But that proved to be false, as the Dodgers jumped at an opportunity to dish him to the Braves at the trade deadline.
I will concede that the Dodgers got basically a deal they could not pass up, but the investment they initially made in Olivera had us all wondering if he would be the next Cuban megastar. After a pretty lackluster debut with the Braves during the latter half of the season, Olivera enters 2016 with a full-time starting job and the potential to cement himself in the MLB.
Even though some scouts voiced their concerns, most had Olivera rated as an impact player as he came over to the states. Olivera has been playing professionally since he was 18, and showed through solid progression over his 10 year career in the Cuban league. As he was in his prime years everything looked to be going to according to play until he suffered a blood clot.
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The blood clot and trying to figure out how to become eligible to play in the MLB, cost him basically two seasons of his career. He had to miss 2012 because of the clot and did not play anywhere professionally in 2014 besides participating in MLB showcases.
From 2008-2011, Olivera had over 15+ HR in each season capped off by a 17 HR output in only 60 games played. His power numbers were all trending upwards until the blood clot, which as we all saps people of their strength as it is a pretty serious health concern. So to see that number drop all the way to only seven homers in 2013 when he returned playing, should have come to no surprise.
The one thing to keep in mind with Olivera is that he is 30, so these are his prime years. During his time in the minors in 2015 he would manage to produce a pretty solid line across his six stops, but only would up playing in 35 games. His final line, .272/2 HR/10 RBI/.702 OPS, is decent for only a 35 game stretch. Add in the fact that he was mightily slowed down by a hamstring injury, and what you have is a guy who was not only adjusting to being on two MLB teams in one year, but also a guy trying to recover from another injury.
This is not to make any excuses but lays the groundwork on why Olivera will get overlooked at drafts in the spring. Over his 24 game debut with the Braves last season he finished with, .253/2 HR/11 RBI/.715 OPS line, which many owners are not going to salivating about. So while that line does not elicit optimism, it does open the door for other owners to sneak in and possibly unearth a draft day gem. With Olivera not having nearly enough of a sample size, both in the majors nor minors, the only way to examine his skill set is by his Cuban stats. While Cuban pitching is not MLB caliber, we have seen Cuban hitters come over and transition well.
The Cuban National Series is only a 90 game season, so before his uncontrollable blood clot, he averaged playing in 80 games per season. During his entire 10 year tenure there he never hit below .262 (which he did in his age 20 season), and outside of that one season alone, his AVG was routinely over .315.
Scouts have complemented him on his bat speed and solid approach at the plate, so it comes as no surprise that his career OPS was above .900. Speed wise, he only had one season of more than eight steals and he did not attempt a SB last season, so any speed production he offers in 2016 comes as a bonus.
Olivera looks as though he will be the Braves starting LF in 2016 as they desperately need his stick in the lineup. He will only be eligible at third base, since that is where he played last season, but the fact remains that he will have plenty of chances to get at bats. He is the perfect example of a draft day flier as investing in him will come cheap and late, but he comes with enough upside that makes it worth it. At worse, Olivera only provides a solid AVG next season as it seems as though his bat speed and career ratios speak to his consistent contact ability.
His hopeful value lies in the power department, where after being two seasons removed from his blood clot. he has put back on the weight he lost and is back to the playing shape he was in Cuba. He hit well in Winter ball this season and has already been working with Atlanta’s hitting coach, who gloated about how Olivera has cut down his swing some and made it more compact.
His counting stats will likely solely be tied to where he hits in the lineup because, if he can hit in front of Freddie Freeman, it will do wonders for his weekly lines. Between the scouting reports and what he showed in Cuba, there is no reason that he cannot hit 15 HR next season, making him a worthy late round pick. At least monitor him in the Spring, which hopefully will encourage you to remember him on draft day.
2016 Early Projections: .275/15 HR/60 RBI/5 SB/.800 OPS