Cuban nationals have a very good track record in the big leagues as of late. Most notably Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Jorge Soler, Aroldis Chapman, and others. The Diamondbacks just signed Yasmany Tomas this offseason to a six-year, $68.5 million deal. One who is falling under the radar in my eyes is second baseman Hector Olivera.
Olivera will turn 30 this season, so he may not have the upside at this point as previous years, but he is still a very solid player. Once considered the top second baseman in Cuba and arguably a top five player on the island, Olivera has had some injury concerns plague him. He had a blood condition in his left bicep which cost him the entire 2012-2013 season. He returned for the 2013-2014 season and was a very solid contributor with a slash line of .316/.412/.474.
Olivera is expected to sign soon as he is gaining residency in Haiti. Scouts and Baseball America have said they would take Olivera over Yasmany Tomas. That's quite the statement considering the deal Tomas just signed. Olivera is a 6’2 220 lb second baseman, and reported having good power. Not Abreu or Cespedes power, but he has an excellent bat. He’s played really well in international play including the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic. Had Olivera been on the market a few years ago, he would have been a hot commodity. However, with the injury concern and the fact that he will turn 30 this season, the market has died down a little.
Olivera recently finished his last workout and showcase for big league clubs, and was still playing very well. Here's a piece of what Baseball America had to say in regards to his last showcase:
When Olivera was dominating in Cuba and in international competitions, he was one of the most well-rounded players on the island. What stood out Wednesday was Olivera’s mature hitting approach, pitch recognition and lack of swing-and-miss, a strong contrast with Tomas. Olivera stayed within the strike zone, made consistent contact and hit the ball hard to all fields. After getting hit by a pitch in his first at-bat, Olivera stayed at the plate and they reset the count. On the next pitch he saw, Olivera ripped a breaking ball for a line-drive double.
In his third plate appearance, Olivera fouled off the first pitch, then hit a fastball up in the zone on the outer third to the opposite field for a line-drive single. His next time up, Olivera worked a walk, then stayed at the plate and the count reset. On a 2-0 fastball at the thighs, Olivera kept his hands inside the ball and drove a double into the right-center field gap. After reaching base in all five plate appearances, that was the end of the day for Olivera.
Olivera undoubtedly has the talent and maturity to play in the big leagues. The main concern is the injury risk and that he is getting up there in years, at 30. Scouts have said that Olivera has flashed signs of 20 HR pop. Here's another segment of what Baseball America had to say:
Olivera didn’t run the 60-yard dash, though he’s run anywhere from 6.65 to 6.8 seconds at previous open showcases. Olivera is a big man at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, but doesn’t have the monster 70 to 80 raw power of Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes or Yasmany Tomas. That’s never been his game. Olivera did show plus bat speed and a loose, easy swing with good bat path through the hitting zone and a mature approach that was evident even in BP. He drove the ball with authority and out of the park to all fields.
The teams that are most likely to sign Olivera at this point look to be the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, and Athletics. The Dodgers could use Olivera at third in place of Uribe, who will be 35 this season. The Yankees would make sense for Olivera, considering the track record of Stephen Drew. The A's have Zobrist at second, but could very well move him to the outfield and play Olivera at second. He'd also be a great addition to the Giants in case Panik or McGehee regress. Many other teams including the Padres, who have already spent big this offseason, have been watching his workouts as well. It'll be interesting to see where Olivera ends up.
What can we expect from Olivera?
He's a guy you can very likely grab in the later rounds of your draft, and is a tremendous sleeper pick with the upside being a .285-.300 hitter with 20 homers. However, there is a risk with injury concern and how he will translate to the big leagues. Also, he was limited much of last season in Cuba to playing primarily as a DH. Should Olivera be healthy enough to play, he could be a combination of Jonathan Schoop and Martin Prado. That is, the possibility of Schoop's power and Prado's average. This could make for a very intriguing sleeper in 2015.