Second baseman Hector Olivera has defected from his home country of Cuba in order to pursue a career in the majors, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. Olivera will ultimately not be subject to international bonus pool restrictions, but still must go through the process of establishing residency in a third country, obtaining OFAC clearance, and being declared a MLB free agent.
The 29-year-old rated as the sixth-best player still plying his trade in Cuba, according to a recent ranking from Baseball America (subscription required). As Badler notes, however, Olivera comes with more than the usual uncertainty since he missed all of last season with a reported case of thrombosis in his left biceps.
But Olivera has come back strong this year, Badler explains, even if his overall production has not quite met the lofty standard he set previously. Generally, Olivera has shown pretty much everything you could want in a hitter. In a sample of his most recent 273 plate appearances, he not only has an attractive .316/.412/.474 line, but has swatted seven home runs and walked more times than he has struck out.
As Badler notes, Olivera has split his time between second and a DH role since returning from his injury. He will obviously have plenty to prove to scouts, though he does have prior international exposure. Olivera will surely hope to show that he is at full health and that his skills are still at their peak as he approaches age 30 (his birthday is in April). With an upcoming free agent market that is light on talent at second base, Olivera could provide an intriguing possibility for the many clubs that might be interested in a new addition at the keystone.