They know that Hector Olivera’s pending arrival is highly anticipated by Braves fans who haven’t had a whole lot to get excited about in recent weeks.
But Braves officials are being careful not to bring the Cuban infielder up from Triple-A to the major league team until they think closer to being ready, when he has regained his leg strength and his timing down at the plate.
Instead of Monday’s homestand opener against the Rockies, or Friday’s series opener against the Yankees, the ETA for Olivera now looks to be no sooner than Tuesday (Sept. 1), when major league rosters can be expanded. Not only will the delay give Olivera, 30, more time to hone his swing, it’ll also allow the Braves to avoid making a roster move to open a spot for him on the 25-man roster.
Not that delaying Olivera’s arrival is easy, when the Braves could use a spark of any kind.
“It is tough. Believe me,” Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said. “It’s not easy when you look at it and go, we’re just going to have to do the right thing with this guy. We’re just going to have to.”
The Braves gave up plenty to get Olivera from the Dodgers in a three-team deal July 30, sending to Los Angeles infield prospect Jose Peraza along with starting pitcher Alex Wood and relievers Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan. Olivera, who is signed for five more seasons beyond this one, can play three infield positions (all except shortstop) and left field, and the Braves plan to make him their regular third baseman.
Olivera had two hits and his first RBI in his fifth game for Gwinnett on Tuesday, and was 5-for-20 with five singles, one RBI, one walk and three strikeouts in for the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate before Wednesday night’s game at Charlotte. This after going 1-for-17 with a single in six games at the rookie- and low-Single A levels in the first stops of his rehab assignment.
“We DH’d him last night at Charlotte,” Hart said. “We’re going to play him at third base a couple or three games in a row, then we might give him a day off. We’re not going to leave him down there (in Triple-A) forever. At some point (even) if he’s not ready, we’re going to bring him. Most likely it’s going to be when the rosters expand, and he probably isn’t going to be fully the same guy we’re going to see next year.”
Before missing a month with the hamstring injury, Olivera batted .387 (12-for-31) with a double, a triple and a home run for the Dodgers’ Triple-A Oklahoma City affiliate, and looked ready to make his major league debut and be the impact guy that he was expected to be when the Dodgers signed him to a six-year, $62.5 million contract last winter, when they outbid the Braves, Padres, Marlins and Yankees for his services.
“We knew when we made the (trade) that he hadn’t been able to play for a period of time,” Hart said. “He hurts his hamstring, his baseball activities got shut down. This is a guy that I think was ready to play; he hadn’t played a lot in the year leading up to (this), in the year he was defecting he didn’t participate a lot. Then he’s out for basically all winter doing showcases and workouts. Then when he finally signed, he didn’t get over (to the United States) till May. He got back in the fray, he didn’t ever have a spring training, and he gets hurt.”
Olivera, listed at 6 feet 2 and 220 pounds, impressed Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman with “light-tower power” during batting-practice sessions when both were rehabbing recently in Florida. Freeman said in batting practice, Olivera hit balls about as far as former Braves slugger Evan Gattis.
How his talent will translate to major league baseball, in the near- and long-term, remains to be seen. But the Braves, who will pay Olivera about $32 million through the 2020 season, are going to be patient and give another several days in Triple-A to continue working on his timing and his conditioning.
“We’ve sort of looked at two things,” Hart said. “One, we want to make sure he is healthy, so we’ve taken our time there. And then, he’s going to need a little bit of a spring training. We’ve had to sort of throw him in the fray. We’ve adjusted, we wanted to get him out of the Gulf Coast League. We felt that he was healthy enough that we weren’t going to blow the hamstring out, but we were still going to get him into game shape, into playing shape. Physically he looks great. It’s just the day-to-day grind that he hasn’t done.”