All-Star Talent Gives Catcher a Chance

InsidethePark.com's Aaron Beach tells us why Miguel Olivo is more than capable of putting up all-star quality numbers while playing the necessary defense for the M's in 2005. Was his time in Seattle last summer an aberation? Will the 'real' Miguel Olivo please stand up?



When the Seattle Mariners acquired catcher Ben Davis in 2002 from the San Diego Padres, many thought the Mariner had addressed what was beginning to loom as a huge question mark in the minds of Mariner brass as they began looking towards the future.

Ben Davis was a big, strong, switch-hitting catcher, and a seemingly ideal replacement for Dan Wilson's impending retirement. But Big Ben's bat or lack thereof, had another direction in mind; south to Tacoma, and eventually a trip out of town, and the organization

The utter failure of Davis left the organization with a huge hole to fill and nobody to fill it with. Potential minor league organizational replacements were nowhere near being Major League ready, and though Jason Varitek was approaching free agency and Jason Kendall sat on the trade block, neither were ever really an option.

Both Jason's ultimately being far more expensive than they were worth – at least to the M's. The Mariners had far too many other needs

With no internal options, and Freddy Garcia showing signs he was ready to jump ship at the end of the season, Bavasi began shopping around the league for answers. The veteran GM found a willing trade partner in the Chicago White Sox and their GM Ken Williams, who was badly in need of a front line pitcher to stack a run at the American League Central.

After several weeks of wrangling at the inclusion of Joe Crede, Joe Borchardt or Jeremy Reed, catcher Miguel Olivo joined the Mariners at the end of June.

Olivo is an interesting case study in tool scouting, offering plus skills in almost every area. Rare enough as far as prospects go, and almost unheard of for a catcher, Olivo has the ability to hit for a decent average and has better-than-average power, capable of smacking 20 home runs, and is blessed with blazing speed, for a catcher. Olivo is a potential 20/20 threat.

Behind the plate, Olivo has a snap release and a plus arm, but struggled with the ball in the dirt resulting in a high occurrence of passed balls. As a Mariner, his reactions often seemed a step slow, and ironically, he had trouble sliding over in front of the ball, which was surprising because of his overall athleticism and willingness to sacrifice his body.

Of all the Mariners that can and will improve upon upon their 2004, Miguel Olivo is one of the more difficult players to project. Statistically speaking, how do you forecast a guy who hit .200 and struck out 84 times in 300 at-bats?

Worse, he walked only 20 times, and if you remove his time spent in Chicago through four weeks in June, Ben Davis and his .200 batting average don't seem so bad.

Where did things go wrong?

If Olivo has an Achilles heal, it would have to be lack of competitive and emotional maturity. Clearly distraught after leaving Chicago, the 26-year-old never got in sync as a Mariner and was mired in a slump from day one. During one stretch going 0-31 at the plate with strikeouts in more than half of those trips to the batter's box.

Furthermore, he seemed unable to make adjustments and at times, was completely overmatched as he dug himself deeper and deeper into an offensive black hole.

Fortunately for Bavasi, and Mariners fans alike, nobody really got to see the true Miguel Olivo, who has all the trappings of being a very good backstop for a very long time.

Spring training in 2005 will be very important for Olivo, who more than anything needs to feel comfortable with his teammates. The White Sox had a strong Latin chemistry and a close family atmosphere, something the Mariners lacked in ‘04.

That culture should begin to change this spring, as Olivo will be joined by fellow Dominican's, 3B Adrian Beltre and RHP Rafael Soriano.

Some players could care less about their teammates, but as a devoted family man with four children, more than anything Olivo needs to feel accepted as a contributor, teammate and friend.

Not surprisingly, Olivo may ultimately be a player whose performance mirrors his teams' success. Some players are better at riding the highs and lows than others, and given Olivo's emotional nature, fans may have to learn to live with it - Remember Joey Cora?

Projecting Miguel Olivo in 2005 is VERY subjective, but using instinct and observation as a guide - with a dose of statistics thrown in for good measure - I believe Olivo should be good for a .260 batting average with 12-15 home runs and 65 RBI's. Not earth-shattering but certainly not a liability.

If Olivo can learn to curb his free-swinging approach and be a little more selective at the plate, an on-base percentage in .330-.335 range could present some excellent scoring opportunities with Ichiro likely hitting a batter or two behind him. Olivo could also ring up a few steals and a handful of triples, mimicking the M's leadoff samurai.

Catchers with such tools are a rare find in the game today, and the Mariners have a unique opportunity to transform a traditional position of weakness into a legitimate strength.

The M's brass believes Olivo can be an all-star, but for them to truly capitalize on that concept, Miguel has to make some serious mental adjustments, but there is no reason to think he can't handle a comeback.

Some of the most physically gifted players to ever play the game of baseball, failed miserably by not learning to overcome their emotional and mental deficiencies.

Witness the fall of Ken Griffey Junior if you want one that really hits home, though his main problems have been laziness and pride, conditions that don't seem to afflict Olivo.

On the other side of the coin, take Gil Meche, a poster child for players who overcame mental derailment to embrace their physical gifts, if but for a few months of a 99-loss season.

It's probably not enough that a lot rests on his shoulders. The Mariners need Olivo to fulfill his potential, because if he fails the Mariners have no real contingency plans, save riding Dan Wilson until his kneecaps fall off – and we may not be far from that already.

On the flip side, the possibility that he can become something really special looms just on the edge of our vision, and it's enough to endure a little bit of heart flutter to see what we have.

The club gave ‘Big Ben' three years. Let's hope Miguel figures it out a lot sooner, or he too, will end up as organizational fodder.

No pressure, though.



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