Braves looking to get Olivera accustomed to left field

30-year-old Cuban transitioning from third base in second year with club

March 4th, 2016

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- While many projected everyday Major Leaguers do not play every day during the early portion of Spring Training, the Braves are taking advantage of the chance to help Hector Olivera gain further comfort within his new surroundings in left field.

Olivera has served as the starting left fielder during three of Atlanta's first four Grapefruit League games. He played the entirety of Thursday afternoon's game against the Tigers and into the sixth inning of Friday's 12-11 loss to the Phillies at Bright House Field.

"The more we can run him out there and get reps, I think the better he's going to be and the more comfortable we're going to be," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But knock on wood, from what I've seen so far, he's done well. He's an athlete."

Spring:Tickets | Ballpark | 40-man roster | NRIs

After seeing Olivera struggle both offensively and defensively after making his Major League debut as the Braves third baseman in September, the Braves determined they could take some pressure off the 30-year-old Cuban by transitioning him from third base to left field.

Olivera introduced himself to the new position as he played for nearly a month in the Puerto Rican League. The Braves have been pleased with the commitment Oliver has shown toward making the transition and encouraged by how he has handled the position during the first few games of the exhibition season.

During Tuesday's game against the Orioles, Olivera took a cautious approach toward a single that fell along the left-field line and he also saw a double fly over his head. He gained yet another lesson during Thursday's game, when his decision to throw to third base after making a catch in left field allowed the runner at first base to reach second base.

"I want to get him reps out there, but so far he looks comfortable," Gonzalez said. "I've seen guys who have been in big leagues for 12 years throw to the wrong base. So, that's something we'll continue working on. That might take the longest to learn because everybody wants to throw somebody out and then here comes the other runner taking the extra base every single time."

While the Braves certainly want Olivera to prove he can capably handle left field from a defensive perspective, they are every bit as interested in seeing him prove his bat can be much more impressive than it was when he hit .253 with a .715 OPS over the 24 games he played in September.

Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer spent time in Puerto Rico making necessary mechanical adjustments to Olivera's swing. Time will tell how effective the adjustments prove to be, but the early results have been encouraging as Atlanta's new left fielder has recorded four hits (all singles) in his past eight plate appearances.

"He's going to have to roll the pole," Gonzalez said with a witty reference to swinging the bat. "That's what separates a good left fielder from a so-so left fielder."

When the Braves acquired Olivera from the Dodgers at the expense of Jose Peraza and Alex Wood in July, he was viewed as a legitimate middle-of-the-order offensive threat. If he can live up to these expectations, he could fill the cleanup role and provide some diversity within Atlanta's lefty-heavy lineup.

"That would be a big plus for us," Gonzalez said. " I think we'll end up with a couple lefties together at some place in the lineup, but it would be nice to have a right-handed guy who could scare somebody and bat him behind [Freddie] Freeman."