Dodgers need a spark, but Hector Olivera won’t provide it

Hey, the Dodgers scored five runs last night. Sure, it wasn’t enough to beat the hated ones, but five runs is five runs. It was the first time in since June 10 they had done that.

The Dodgers’ offense has been “fine,” as Daniel said in the game thread last night. So, naturally, we wake up Saturday morning to this from Mark Saxon:

“Two of the most talented players in the Dodgers’ organization are doing their damage thousands of miles from where it can do this team any good, on the plains of Oklahoma. One of those players — and, soon, maybe both — is ready to make his impact in the major leagues. Hector Olivera is just what this Dodgers team needs. Corey Seager soon will be part of the solution. Each wasted opportunity that passes for the Dodgers seems to bring them closer, tantalizingly close.”

Eh, not so fast. Yes, Olivera is having a nice start to his U.S. professional career (.388/.423/.571), but let’s keep in mind that he’s 30 years old going up against guys who are, in some cases, 6-8 years his junior. He has 52 plate appearances, which isn’t much of a sample size. I guess for a guy who is known for his hitting ability, it might tell a better story than that of an 18-year-old draftee. But there’s one thing people are failing to acknowledge when looking at the Olivera situation.

Olivera hasn’t played a lot of organized baseball in the last couple of years. He defected from Cuba and trained a lot in the Dominican Republic, but those games are hardly replications of major-league situations. There was also some concern about Olivera’s stamina and durability before he even signed.

“Olivera hasn’t played in a competitive game in awhile, hasn’t played in the field on even a part-time basis in years, and hasn’t played an international game (the only games that MLB teams can scout Cubans in person) in years. He has a blood disorder that knocked him out of game action for over a year, turns 30 next month and was noticeably fatigued in some private workouts for clubs, which were all scheduled with plenty of downtime between so he could recover.

In the game/workout I saw him play in, he had four plate appearances in six innings, then left the game right before he would’ve faced RHP Yadier Alvarez, who was sitting 93-97 mph. The pitchers Olivera has been facing in these workouts generally work around 88-91 mph and are of roughly A-Ball quality. Olivera’s careful handling has been a good move by his representation because it controls how scouts see him and limits risk, but it’s raised more than a few eyebrows and is doing nothing to allay fears about various medical and durability issues.”

I’m not sure 12 minor-league games is enough for him to have built up enough to be an every day player in the majors. Oh, and then there’s the big question: Where is he going to play?

Apparently, this whole “Justin Turner is really good at baseball” is a real thing, so unless the Dodgers plan on cutting back his playing time a bit (which they very well could), or they plan on cutting back on Howie Kendrick‘s playing time (doesn’t seem to likely), there just really isn’t a place to play Olivera at present.

I’m of the opinion that Turner is better as a 3-5 time per week player, but he’s hitting and defending so well that it would be almost criminal to sit him. Kendrick hasn’t been as good recently as he was early on, but his numbers are basically in line with his career averages (except potentially anomalous defensive metric ratings). Maybe Olivera gets some time at first base, but that would cut into not only Adrian Gonzalez‘s time (duh, but also wouldn’t be the worst thing for him), but more importantly, Scott Van Slyke‘s time. And in that case, Turner is probably better off at first base anyway. And I see no scenario in which Olivera plays left field.

The Dodgers absolutely need a spark. I won’t argue Saxon’s point. But it won’t come in the way of Olivera. More likely, it’d come in the form of Corey Seager, which I discussed a bit on Friday.

What really needs to happen is this:

  1. Andre Ethier, Gonzalez, Kendrick and, to a lesser extent, Joc Pederson need to break out of their slumps
  2. Rotation needs an upgrade sometime in the next 3-5 weeks
  3. Bullpen needs to get healthy and situated

That’s how this time will get its spark. Recalling Olivera — potentially before he’s physically ready to handle an every day workload (and with not a lot of space for said workload) — probably won’t do the trick.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.