The Braves appear to be in the process of shifting Hector Olivera from third base to the outfield. We had heard recently that Olivera would spend some time in left in winter ball, though indications were that it was not intended as any kind of permanent move.
Now, it appears, Atlanta is set to embark upon a more dedicated transition process, as ESPN.com’s Buster Olney tweets. The Braves do indeed “seem ready to shift” Olivera to the grass after intensive internal discussion, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution adds (Twitter links). He says that Olivera will still spend some time at third in Puerto Rico, but will be playing there “just in case.”
Needless to say, it probably wasn’t the club’s first choice to be considering this kind of move so soon after adding Olivera. Atlanta plugged him in at third after acquiring him over the summer from the Dodgers. The hope had been that Olivera would represent a solid hitter and reasonable-enough defender who could hold down the hot corner at a low price point ($32.5MM over the next five years).
That’s not to say that Olivera can’t still deliver value. The team has consistently expressed confidence that he’ll come around with the bat, and he put up a roughly league-average .253/.310/.405 batting line in his first 87 plate appearances in the majors. If the 30-year-old can settle in at the dish, he might well turn into a solid regular.
That still leaves the team with the somewhat difficult task of filling in at third base, if in fact Olivera will end up in left field. The Braves can utilize Adonis Garcia, as the 30-year-old rookie did have a nice (albeit unlikely to be repeated) campaign last year, but he hardly seems an everyday player. Atlanta does have some notable prospects at the position in Rio Ruiz, 21, who reached (but did not master) Double-A last year, and the younger Austin Riley. But there’s no chance that they’ll represent an option this spring, and their developmental timelines remain uncertain. This year’s free agent market is rather weak, with players like Daniel Murphy (if he’s considered there, rather than at second), David Freese, and Juan Uribe representing the best options.
As I wrote yesterday in breaking down the Braves’ offseason, the Braves have more options — both internal and external — for the outfield. It’s also worth noting that some may now end up being pushed out. Nick Swisher could be a prime candidate — and I’d guess the team would part with him before Michael Bourn, given that the latter can play center — though he clearly has negative trade value.