Rox hope Olivarez won't be a secret for long

October 25th, 2021

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If all goes well for pitching prospect , the Rockies will unveil him at the Major League level sooner rather than later. But once upon a time, for strategic reasons, Colorado needed to keep Olivarez a secret.

Olivarez, 21, ranks 14th on MLB Pipeline's list of Rockies prospects, and his numbers at High-A Spokane (4-9, 6.05 ERA, 112 strikeouts but 68 walks in 99 2/3 innings) suggest he is a ways away. Because of the 2020 Minor League shutdown, '21 was his first year of full-season Minor League ball.

However, the 95-97 mph four-seam fastball and power curveball signal quick development once he solidifies his delivery -- a project he undertook last month in the Arizona Instructional League and continues in the Dominican Winter League, which started Monday. And 2022 will be his second season on the 40-man Major League roster, so his clock is ticking.

But should Olivarez develop the way the Rockies expect, it might turn out to be a fine story of keeping a secret -- not to mention a big return on just a $77,000 bonus expenditure.

As a teenager in San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic, Olivarez had dreams of a career in the outfield, but he didn’t hit well in showcase events in 2016. So he took up pitching.

“I was only a month into pitching when the Rockies saw me -- they were the second team,” Olivarez said in Spanish, with Rockies assistant mental skills coordinator Jerry Amador translating.

The Red Sox were the first. They liked what they saw and told Olivarez they wanted to track his progress.

After seeing Olivarez, Rockies scout Raul Gomez quickly determined he didn’t want anyone else seeing him. Gomez made sure Olivarez was invited to the team’s complex in Jubey, Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, for open tryouts that happen every 15 days.

“Out of a tryout we did in January of 2017 out of about 25 players, we kept Helcris at the complex,” said Rolando Fernandez, the Rockies’ vice president of international scouting. “He wasn’t a guy that you’d think, ‘Right away.’ But we liked the body, we liked the projection [of growth and strength], the looseness, the arm action, and what happened when he threw the fastball for strikes.

“So we kept him at the complex for our January program, where professional players were getting ready for Spring Training, and had [Latin American field coordinator and longtime pitching instructor] Edison Lora take a look at him. We decided to keep him, put him in different scenarios on the field, and decided to sign him.”

Much of what the Rockies like about Olivarez has yet to be seen in competition. The high strikeouts (289) and high walks (142) in 248 Minor League innings show up on the stat sheet.

Olivarez turned heads with his stuff, though he was still raw, in three Spring Training outings (two runs in five innings, but four walks in one inning of a March 11 outing against the Cubs). But the learning was invaluable. Olivarez said All-Star right-hander Germán Márquez helped him establish a daily routine, and righty reliever Carlos Estévez talked to him throughout the season.

Olivarez’s biggest issue has been a lack of game experience. He did well enough last year at the alternate training site for the Rockies to place him on their Major League roster and protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. The club sees Oliveraz’s drive and self-analysis as reasons to believe he can correct his flaws.

The Rockies do not want to rush Olivarez. But with quick development, he could help Colorado's starting rotation depth.

Márquez, righty Antonio Senzatela and lefties Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber form Colorado's rotation core, and the Rockies still hope to re-sign Jon Gray. Behind them on the Major League roster are righties Peter Lambert, who has 21 Major League starts, and Ryan Feltner, who has two. Beyond Ryan Rolison, who spent much of 2021 at Triple-A Albuquerque, and Feltner, you have to go to No. 28 prospect Karl Kauffmann to find a starter who has pitched as high as Double-A.

Olivarez went to the Scottsdale program knowing he would not receive game action, and it’s not clear if he will pitch competitively in the instructional program. But much like Rolison, the Rockies' first-round pick in 2018 who did extra work in Arizona and is preparing to pitch winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Olivarez volunteered to do his extra work with coaches watching. Lora, who knows him best, made a trip to Scottsdale and will see him in the Dominican program.

“I definitely want to keep my delivery straight up, and it will help me control and command my fastball,” Olivarez said. “That’s one of the main goals, and also to get stronger and stay healthier. I have to clean up my lower-body motion and be more clean and straight to the plate.”