Patience needed as Olivera tries to maximize potential
Third baseman makes debut vs. Marlins; four others promoted Tuesday
ATLANTA -- Instead of rushing their new prized possession to the Major League level, the Braves allowed Hector Olivera to spend all of August recovering from a hamstring strain and indoctrinating himself to professional baseball in the United States. But they are now hoping the 30-year-old Cuban begins showing glimpses of why they paid such a steep price for him.
Olivera got his first taste of the big leagues and began his reign as Atlanta's third baseman of the future during Tuesday night's 7-1 loss to the Marlins at Turner Field. His 0-for-4 debut provided indication that it might take some time for him to live up to the expectations that have been placed on him.
"Today, I reached my dream," Olivera said through an interpreter. "I'm finally here. I finally realized it. If I continue, I'll start getting better. But today, overall, was a good performance and good effort. I want to build on it."
Along with Olivera, the Braves also promoted right-hander Manny Banuelos, shortstop Daniel Castro, and right-handed relievers Brandon Cunniff and Danny Burawa from Triple-A Gwinnett as Major League rosters expanded on Monday.
Though they will have to continue providing him the same patience afforded other rookies, the Braves undoubtedly are feeling some enhanced pressure as they introduced Olivera to their fans. They mortgaged their future by obtaining this unproven talent in a July 30 trade that sent their top prospect Jose Peraza and a controllable, proven starter Alex Wood to the Dodgers.
Just four months earlier, Olivera was a top international free agent who received a six-year, $62.5 million deal from the Dodgers.
"It might take a couple of weeks before we know what this guy is really all about," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But I do think we'll see something good."
Olivera's debut provided some mixed results. After missing a grounder to his left in Miami's two-run first inning, he made a nice diving grab of Marcell Ozuna's sharp grounder in the seventh inning. Between a weak grounder in the second inning and a seventh-inning strikeout, he sandwiched a hard-hit groundout that at least showed some of the power potential the Braves have advertised. Olivera also flied out to center in the eighth.
"I thought he was fine," Gonzalez said. "I thought he made some nice passes at the ball and I thought he made some nice plays defensively. This is the first time he's ever played in the big leagues, so I think he did a nice job."
Olivera batted just .231 with a .286 on-base percentage and three extra-base hits (all doubles) in the nine Minor League rehab games he played for Triple-A Gwinnett over the past two weeks. His struggles could be attributed to the hamstring strain that limited him to six Rookie Level games from June 21 until Aug. 12.
Or maybe it should just be remembered that he entered Tuesday having totaled just 98 plate appearances above the Class A level. There is a chance that he will not be at peak performance until he has a chance to complete this season and go through a full Spring Training next year.
But that doesn't change the fact that many eyes will be on him over the next few weeks attempting to gain a better sense of why the Braves were willing to give up so much to bring him to Atlanta.
"I don't think I'm 100 percent quite yet, but I'm close," Olivera said. "Within these next few days, I think I'll be where I need to be."