Get to know this year’s foreign imports: Hector Olivera

While Yoan Moncada remains the best player with the most long-term impact on the international market, Hector Olivera might have the most immediate impact.

Olivera, 30 in April, is an infielder from Cuba who is not yet officially a free agent. With all the changes to OFAC and MLB rules in the last couple weeks, he could be declared a free agent sooner rather than later. Unlike Moncada, Olivera projects to be in the majors this season. He’s 6’2, 220 pounds and played a lot of second base for the Cuban national team. Now, Olivera sounds an awful lot like Alex Guerrero, but Olivera has a much better chance of sticking defensively at second base than Guerrero does, and he has a better bat. Health is a big concern for Olivera, though.

From Ben Badler at Baseball America in the summer:

“When healthy, Olivera shows a well-rounded skill set with size, athleticism, hitting ability and power. Olivera recognizes pitches, stays within the strike zone and has hit over .300 in nine of his 10 seasons in Serie Nacional. He has good power for a middle infielder, ranking second in the league with 34 doubles in 2008-09 with 14-17 home runs in each of his last four seasons before he was sidelined. Olivera also showed his speed with 21 stolen bases in 22 attempts in 2007-08, though he hasn’t otherwise been a big basestealing threat. Olivera showed the defensive chops to play second base before missing time, but this past season Olivera spent most of his time at DH, with just 29 games at second base. Some consider a healthy Olivera to be one of the top players in Cuba, but he’s the most challenging player to evaluate on this list given his health issues.”

And from almost a couple weeks ago:

“As for what happened on the field, scouts said Olivera looked good, perhaps a little tired on the second day, but he appeared to be in good physical condition, with more weight (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) than he had during his prime years on the national team, but carrying it in a good way. He ran the 60-yard dash in around 6.7 to 6.8 seconds, depending on the stopwatch, showing slightly above-average speed. He’s not flashy at second base, but scouts said he looked like a steady defender. Olivera also took groundballs at third base, and while he’s shown a plus arm in the past, he didn’t seem to be airing it out quite as much at the showcase.

Olivera has a quick bat and showed a tick above-average power, hitting the ball hard to all fields and generating loft with his swing. Like a lot of Cuban hitters, he wraps the bat in his setup, but he has a history of making consistent contact in games and scouts have lauded his hitting approach and strike-zone management.”

With his size, he probably profiles best at third base in the majors, but he has shown an ability to handle second base. The Dodgers don’t have anyone locked up for either spot come 2016, so perhaps Olivera is a worthwhile gamble. He could give Juan Uribe some much-needed rest at third base while not losing much offensively.

Here’s some video of him.

Here’s a quick #notascout look at his swing. He has an unusual setup, as he sits in a crouch with his hands held at chest level. He loads back on his leg and doesn’t have a leg kick or take a step. Instead, he twists his front leg toward home plate while keeping his toes still on the ground. He uncoils and produces some potentially solid-average bat speed. There is one thing I really don’t like about it, though. His hands move up when he begins his swing, almost like he’s recoiling his top half. It doesn’t produce a fluid swing or path to the ball in the strike zone. It’s almost a type of hitch that takes a lot of hand and forearm strength to maintain. The pitching in Cuba isn’t the greatest, so I’m afraid his swing could be exposed in the majors. That isn’t to say he couldn’t work on changing it, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on if he signs with the Dodgers (even if he doesn’t, baseball fan).

He also has broad shoulders, which would lead you to believe he hits for a ton of power, but he owns just a .505 slugging percentage in 3,269 plate appearances (though, he has been better in recent years).

In the field, he looks surprisingly fluid at second base — especially for a bigger guy. He has plenty of arm strength for second base and looks the part. His arm might play at third base, too.

Here’s what Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs had to say about Olivera:

“The most recent news on this front is about 2B Hector Olivera, with news of his defection breaking this week. He’s not a shoo-in to be a huge money guy as he’s already 29 and there’s some concern/uncertainty about a potential blood flow condition in his left arm.

Olivera has a live bat and may still be able to play up the middle in the big leagues, but he hasn’t been scouted in years since he hasn’t played in any international tournaments in that period, the only way MLB teams can see Cuban players in person. If he can clear these medical hurdles, Olivera was seen as one of the best players on the island a few years back and, while he may be past his physical prime, could still draw a multi-year deal at some point in the next year.”

Since Olivera has the requisite amount of time and age in the Cuban professional leagues, he is not subject to MLB’s international spending limits. He can be signed to a major-league deal and none of his money counts against the international cap (unlike Moncada). He isn’t going to get as big a pay day as Moncada will, but folks in the industry think he can land at least a $10 million deal. Seems like a worthwhile gamble for a guy with potential at the plate and in the field. His injury history (and lack of full information regarding it) is a red flag, but if the Dodgers could land Olivera for $15-18 million for four or so years, it might behoove them to do so.

The Padres and Mariners have been heavily connected to Olivera, but Badler reported today the Dodgers had a strong contingent of decision-makers in attendance for his showcase.

“Of all the teams at the showcase today, the Dodgers had the most notable presence. Dodgers vice president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes, VP of amateur and international scouting David Finley and director of player personnel Galen Carr were all there.”

Olivera has another showcase planned for Wednesday. He probably won’t be declared a free agent before it, but it’s coming sooner rather than later. Stay tuned.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. 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.