Seitzer confident Olivera will adjust, succeed
Braves hitting coach sees 15-20 HRs from third baseman-turned-left fielder
ATLANTA -- When Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer returned to his suburban Kansas City home earlier this week, he felt quite confident that he had made good use of his time while spending the past few weeks with Hector Olivera in Puerto Rico.
"It was very much worth it," Seitzer said. "We made some good strides with Hector. He was really able to start focusing on the adjustments he needs to make."
When the Braves traded top prospect Jose Peraza and young lefty Alex Wood to acquire Olivera on July 30, there wasn't much reason to believe anyone would be monitoring the strides or progress the 30-year-old Cuban was making nearly four months later. The initial assumption was that he was a pretty polished product simply waiting for a chance to play in the Majors.
But as Olivera struggled throughout August during a Minor League rehab stint and then hit just .253 (20-for-79) with two homers and a .715 OPS for Atlanta, he proved that he was having a tough time adjusting to life at the Major League level and in the United States.
Olivera was sent to Puerto Rico to make up for the time he lost over the past year while exiting Cuba and dealing with a hamstring injury. He has spent the past few weeks adjusting from third base to left field. But more importantly, this experience has given him a chance to grow more comfortable with Seitzer and mechanical changes to his swing.
"We got to hang out quite a bit," Seitzer said. "I was so impressed by his work ethic, his intensity, his focus and concentration to detail. It was really awesome. I was really impressed by how much more athletic he was in the outfield. It was fun to watch."
Olivera has batted .235, compiled a .304 on-base percentage and recorded just two extra-base hits (both doubles) through 51 at-bats in Puerto Rico. He's also struck out just once within this small sample size. But it goes without saying that Seitzer's assessment provides more encouragement than these statistics.
"I don't care what level of pitching you're facing, to put that kind of percentage of balls in play is pretty awesome," Seitzer said. "His groundouts aren't exactly little dribblers, swinging bunts like we saw a few of in September. The dude has the ability to put the fat part of the bat on the ball, which is impressive. That's the biggest part of the battle. Now it's just a matter of getting used to the adjustments mechanically to the point where the power starts to come."
Olivera might never prove to be a legit power threat who can be counted on for 25-plus homers.
But that is not a primary concern for the Braves, who simply hope to see an improved Olivera when Spring Training begins.
"He's a gap-to-gap guy," Seitzer said. "I see him hitting 15 to 20 home runs. If he can hit more than that, then great. If he can drive in 80 [runs], that's great. If we get more than that, that's icing on the cake. He's a pretty talented kid. I think he's going to make adjustments quick."