LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- One can easily discount the fact that Hector Olivera leads all Major Leaguers with 14 Spring Training hits by pointing out that the need for him to adapt to left field has also led to him tallying more at-bats than anybody else in the Grapefruit
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- One can easily discount the fact that Hector Olivera leads all Major Leaguers with 14 Spring Training hits by pointing out that the need for him to adapt to left field has also led to him tallying more at-bats than anybody else in the Grapefruit League.
But Olivera has still made the most of many of those at-bats, including his 1-for-2 performance with a walk in Monday's 5-0 win over the Rays.
More importantly, he has provided the Braves with a sense that he is indeed more comfortable than he was last year, when he introduced himself to the culture in the United States, dealt with an unexpected midseason trade and then returned from a hamstring injury in time to spend the season's final month learning how challenging life as a big leaguer can be.
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"It's a lot more comfortable being here in the United States for a second year," Olivera said through an interpreter. "I was making the change while breaking into the Major Leagues last year. But now, I feel good and confident."
It seems nearly impossible to fully understand all that Olivera endured after he left his native Cuba and learned that the Dodgers had traded him to the Braves just a few months after giving him a six-year, $62.5 million deal. But it has not been difficult to see that the Braves' left fielder is indeed more comfortable than he was when he produced a .715 OPS over 24 games with Atlanta in 2015.
When Olivera arrived in the clubhouse on Sunday wearing black leather pants and a bright red shirt, he smiled when Jason Grilli greeted him with a Michael Jackson-like dance move and manager Fredi Gonzalez playfully chided him about the attire.
"You can just see he's more comfortable," Gonzalez said. "You have to be. Now he knows his teammates, he knows the coaching staff and he knows the routine of being a Major Leaguer. From that standpoint, that is a burden he doesn't have to worry about any more."
Benefiting from some mechanical adjustments he and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer made during the offseason, Olivera has batted .438 (14-for-32) with two doubles and an RBI. The determination he has shown while working diligently to make a smooth switch from third base to left field has also caught the organization's eye.
"I'm comfortable making the transition," Olivera said. "I've been getting a lot of attention from the coaches, and all of the guidance has been very helpful."
Olivera, who turns 31 next month, reported to Spring Training more than a week earlier than required, and he spent many of those days working on his defense. When some of the workouts ended, he would go to the back fields to work on his outfield defense with third-base coach Bo Porter.
"There's nobody who works harder," Gonzalez said. "He's here early and he works. As coaches, that's what you want to see, and he gives us that every single day."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.