The Braves are expected to promote Hector Olivera early this week, and when they do he will likely become the starting third baseman for the rest of the season. This is a player the front office coveted last winter, and it took a stunning three-team trade a month ago to finally get Olivera into the organization.
Last November the Braves flew a contingent of seven people, including manager Fredi Gonzalez, to the Dominican Republic to scout Olivera, who was a Cuban defector and a free agent. They were simply outbid in March, when the Dodgers gave Olivera $62.5 million dollars over six years. Atlanta’s bid was reportedly $10 million or so short of that mark.
When the Dodgers wanted Alex Wood in July, it didn’t take the Braves long to let them know who they wanted in return. They hated losing out to the Dodgers on Olivera during free agency, but the trade was a way to get him anyway. And, with the Dodgers already paying Olivera a $28 million signing bonus, the Braves get him for much cheaper than he would have originally cost in the bidding process.
Olivera is 30, which is a negative. But the guy is a hitter. Last Sunday I saw him in Rome, where he continued his rehab from a hamstring problem. The ball jumps off his bat, and it’s understandable why the Braves’ scouts fell in love with his potential.
The Braves needed another bat to compliment Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis, who are the main bats in the lineup. Olivera could provide right-handed power, but don’t expect a lot early on. He’s been rusty so far in his rehab stints, and it’s very possible Olivera could struggle a bit getting his feet wet in the big leagues for the rest of the season.
But the expectation will be that come Opening Day 2016, Olivera will be a crucial member of Atlanta’s batting order. The Braves are last in baseball in runs scored, so improving the lineup will be the priority this winter. Having already added Olivera will be a plus, but expect another new bat to be acquired.
* Will one new offensive player next season be a catcher? Well, the Braves first need to find out about Christian Bethancourt, who is still stuck in Triple-A. Bethancourt started the season as the starting catcher, but when A.J. Pierzynski started to hit, Gonzalez preferred the veteran over giving the rookie the full chance.
So the Braves sent Bethancourt back to the minors. They wanted him to get better on his defense and realize the seriousness of being a starting catcher in the major leagues. From all accounts, Bethancourt has done just that in Gwinnett. He is better now at calling games, and his pitchers seem to actually like throwing to him now. His arm has always been a plus, but now he’s becoming more refined as an all-around receiver behind the plate.
And the questions about his offense, at least in the minors, are being answered. He’s now hit .294 with Gwinnett between last season and this year. His batting averages have increased every year in the minor leagues. Yes, he hit .198 this year in Atlanta, but the lack of consistent playing time contributed to his struggles.
It is obvious Pierzynski has been a surprise this year at the plate, and he’s likely helped the young pitchers with his experience. But the Braves desperately need to evaluate Bethancourt for the rest of the season. If he shows he has made the improvements they wanted, then Bethancourt should be given another chance to be the starter in 2016. That would mean one less position the Braves would have to target this winter. If Bethancourt struggles, the Braves would know they would have to go after a new catcher during the offseason.
* The Braves are on pace for a 70-92 record this season. If that holds up, they would likely have a top six pick in the first round of next June’s draft. That would allow the team to add another premium prospect to the farm system. This year’s team was never expected to do much, and while the games lately have been tough to watch, it’s only going to help the organization in the big picture to add another quality prospect.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Olivera could join the Braves this week
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