When it comes to 29-year-old Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera, three words come up often that aren’t common to hear in the scouting community:
“I don’t know.”
For the scouts who followed Olivera on the Cuban national team from 2008-10, they loved what they saw. He was an elite performer in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, he had average to plus tools across the board and excelled during international competition. Then he missed the entire 2012-13 season, reportedly due to a blood disorder, and hit well upon his return to Cuba last season (2013-14), though he played just 29 games at second base and mostly served as the DH for his Santiago De Cuba club.
That combination of talent and uncertainty drew hundreds of scouts to a two-day showcase at the Giants’ academy in the Dominican Republic last week. The first day of the showcase featured Olivera running the 60-yard dash, fielding grounders in the infield and taking batting practice. The next day, he faced live pitching, and recorded three hits in seven or eight at-bats.
The Padres, who Baseball America sources have tied to Olivera previously, had general manager A.J. Preller and international scouting director Chris Kemp in town to watch the showcase. The Padres have been aggressive and remain one of the favorites to land him, and perhaps his most likely landing spot.
The Giants had a big crowd on their home turf, including assistant GM John Barr, vice president of pro scouting Jeremy Shelley, special assistant Felipe Alou, senior scouting advisor Ed Creech and international crosschecker Joe Salermo. The A’s and Braves were two other teams that sources said had a notable presence at the event. Sources believe all of those teams could be in the mix to sign Olivera.
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.
Olivera has residency in Haiti but is still waiting for the specific license that Major League Baseball requires Cuban players to have to be able to sign. There’s no clear timetable for that, although given that he was first reported to have left Cuba in September, he should be able to sign by Opening Day. He’s expected to have private workouts next for clubs.