Freeman sees Olivera's skills firsthand
First baseman worked with infielder while at Braves Spring Training complex
CHICAGO -- When the Braves acquired Hector Olivera in the trade that sent top prospect Jose Peraza and Alex Wood to the Dodgers, Freddie Freeman was among those who wondered why such a steep price had been paid for a 30-year-old third baseman who has never played at the Major League level.
But after getting a chance to spend some time with Olivera at the Braves Spring Training complex last week, Freeman at least gained a glimpse of the potential possessed by the powerful Cuban, who is targeted to start in the middle of Atlanta's lineup over the next few seasons.
"When that trade first went down, you were like, 'Man, that's a tough one to swallow,'" Freeman said. "Then you see what he looks like and you see his swing and you're like 'OK, this could be someone special for a few years.'"
Since being acquired by the Braves on July 30, Olivera has been slowly making his way back from a left hamstring strain that he suffered while playing in the Dodgers Minor League system on July 13. The highly-touted third baseman began playing with Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday night and will likely continue to do so through Sunday.
If all goes well, he could make his much-anticipated Major League debut as early as Monday, when the Braves play the Rockies at Turner Field.
"He is an imposing figure in the box," Freeman said before Thursday night's game at Wrigley Field. "He's got the Barry Bonds arm guard thing, he [leans out over the plate] and he swings hard.
"If he was taking BP here, he'd be hitting them over that [left-field video board at Wrigley]. I mean, it's impressive what he can do. He's never played a Major League game, so it's hard to know how that will translate."
While recent batting practice tales have provided a glimpse of Olivera's raw power potential, time will tell how successful he might be against Major League pitchers.
Olivera recorded just one hit and drew a pair of walks in the 19 plate appearances he totaled for the Gulf Coast League Braves and Rome Braves before his rehab stint was transferred to Gwinnett on Thursday. Having played a couple GCL game during his own rehab stint last week, Freeman fully understands how hard it is to get motivated to play in that American Legion-like environment.
Instead of focusing on results, Freeman was more concerned with simply reintroducing his eyes and body to the pace of games.
"Personally, I was just trying to get through those games without getting hurt. I was making sure I didn't run hard enough to pull something. If a pitcher was throwing 95, I was standing in the back of the batter's box, just taking."