Braves could go with Garcia at third base
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- At some point over the next couple of months, the Braves could acquire a third baseman via trade or determine that they are no longer comfortable with their plan to have Hector Olivera make the transition from third base to left field.
So, there is some uncertainty. But as the Braves move toward the 2016 season with the hope that Olivera will make a successful transition, it appears they are quite certain that they'd rather take a chance on Adonis Garcia's glove than take a gamble on one of the free agents available in this offseason's thin third-base market.
"It's not set in stone that [Garcia] will be the third baseman," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "He might share time with Olivera there. There are other guys that we like that could get opportunities there. But right now, I think he's earned first crack at it."
Olivera and Garcia have known each other for close to 30 years, dating back to their childhood days in Cuba. While Garcia, 30, came to the United States in 2012 and spent each of the past four seasons in the Yankees' Minor League system, Olivera, also 30, is still in the midst of making the transition that was necessitated when he came to the U.S. earlier this year after becoming one of the top targets on the international market.
Over the course of the past year, Olivera has exited Cuba, signed a $62.5 million deal with the Dodgers and been traded to the Braves. At the same time that he was attempting to get used to his new lifestyle, the slugger also was making the transition from second baseman to third baseman.
The Braves believe putting Olivera in left field will relieve him of some of the stress he might have felt while attempting to find comfort at third base. He began playing left field last week in Puerto Rico, and the early reports have been favorable.
If Olivera sticks in left, Coppolella has indicated that he could fill third base with Garcia and adding somebody like free agent Kelly Johnson to serve as a left-handed-hitting backup option. Johnson began this season back in his hometown of Atlanta and remained with the Braves until being traded with Juan Uribe to the Mets in July.
When Johnson and Uribe were traded, the Braves called Garcia up from Triple-A Gwinnett and used him as their primary third baseman over the next month. Garcia ended up hitting 10 home runs in 191 at-bats -- making him just the second player in Braves history to reach that total in fewer than 200 at-bats.
There is certainly reason to doubt the lasting power of his homer rate. Garcia totaled just 21 homers over 1,114 Minor League at-bats in the U.S. He also primarily served as an outfielder before transitioning to third base this year. His inexperience at the position showed, as he committed eight errors over the final 18 starts he made at third base.
But for now, the Braves view him as a legitimate candidate to begin next season as their starting third baseman.
"This guy had double-digit home runs in less than 200 at-bats," Coppolella said. "I know whenever he came to the plate, I was pretty excited. You always felt something good was going to happen. It's something where I felt he earned an opportunity."