PITTSBURGH -- Last month, outfield prospect Jared Oliva got a distinctly 2020 taste of life in the Majors. Added to the Pirates’ taxi squad for a four-game series in Cincinnati, Oliva spent two days watching and learning, trying to study how big leaguers went about their business.
The next day, news broke that a Reds player had tested positive for COVID-19 and Oliva was quarantined in a downtown Cincinnati hotel room. On Aug. 16, he rode home with the Pirates and took a bus back to the club’s alternate training site in Altoona, Pa., waiting to be called up again.
The call finally came shortly before Pittsburgh’s series opener against the Cubs on Monday night at PNC Park. The Pirates selected Oliva’s contract and added him to their Major League roster for the first time. Manager Derek Shelton said Oliva, who struck out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of the Pirates' 5-0 loss, will be in Pittsburgh's starting lineup on Tuesday night.
Oliva took the roster spot of outfielder Jason Martin, who was placed on the 10-day injured list with an upper back strain, and the Bucs made room for Oliva on their 40-man roster by transferring reliever Yacksel Rios (right shoulder inflammation) to the 45-day IL.
Oliva, the Pirates’ No. 10 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, drew rave reviews for his work in Altoona this summer. He earned respect throughout the organization for his work ethic and self-described “walk-on mentality,” which fueled his unlikely climb from undrafted high school backup outfielder to a seventh-round pick out of the University of Arizona in 2017.
“Jared is a true professional. That’s what I’ll say,” Pirates outfield prospect Travis Swaggerty said. “He gets after it every single day. He’s super hard-nosed. He’s a perfectionist, and I’m the same way, so he and I meshed really well together.”
“I just realize that’s who I am, that’s how I operate,” Oliva said last week. “I try to carry myself like a pro on and off the field.”
That attitude even extends into Oliva’s reading, which kept him busy during the downtime in Altoona. Over the last few weeks, the 24-year-old finished “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth and “Stillness Is The Key” by Ryan Holiday.
“Go to the personal-growth section of Barnes & Noble,” Oliva said, laughing. “Just trying to find some cool stuff that can apply to life and baseball. Keeps my mind going.”
Oliva enjoyed a strong finish in 2019, batting .312/.378/.444 with 28 stolen bases in his final 85 games for Double-A Altoona, then hitting .312/.413/.473 with 11 doubles and 11 steals in the Arizona Fall League. He was ticketed to begin this year as an everyday outfielder in Triple-A after spending part of Spring Training in big league camp.
Oliva is a natural center fielder, but he’s capable of playing all three outfield spots. Pittsburgh has been exploring its outfield options for next season, especially in center. Cole Tucker has seen a lot of time there this season, and Anthony Alford looked like a possible solution before his season-ending elbow injury. Bryan Reynolds moved from left to center when Alford and Tucker went down, but Oliva could work his way into the mix for 2021 and beyond.
Even with no Minor League games to play this year, the Pirates believe Oliva continued to improve at their alternate training site.
“I feel like this camp was a good opportunity for me to continue the things I was working on in the offseason with just understanding how my body worked a little better and getting proper extension, finding that position. I could go on and on with it,” Oliva said. “It was just kind of maturing a little bit to tap into that power at the plate. That’s the best way to put it.”
The Pirates claimed right-hander Carson Fulmer off waivers from the Orioles on Monday afternoon. Fulmer had bounced from the White Sox to the Tigers in July before the Pirates claimed him off waivers on Aug. 24.
With the Pirates facing a roster crunch, Fulmer was designated for assignment on Sept. 5 without having pitched in a game. He worked 3 2/3 hitless innings for Baltimore before he again was designated for assignment. He is not expected to join the Pirates’ roster during the final week of the season.
“I think there are a lot of positives we see in Carson Fulmer,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “We’re happy to have this guy back. We’re happy he’s a Pirate. We have identified some things we think are going to make him better. We can continue to work on that. Now that we’re closer to the end of the season and we have an opportunity to get him back, it’s going to be a great conversation because he’s an easy kid to root for. I’m excited to have him back in the Pirates' organization.”