Is Hector Olivera Relevant in 2015 Fantasy Baseball?
It's hard to know what to do with all these Cuban players.
As we begin the Major League season this year, there are three Cuban players already on big league teams expected to make some kind of contribution. The expectations are high for Chicago outfielder Jorge Soler, who looks like he could be the next real superstar to emerge from that country. Boston center fielder Rusney Castillo has the big contract and performed well in his cup of coffee with the Red Sox last year. And as I wrote about last week, Arizona's outfielder and third baseman Yasmany Tomas is going to get every opportunity to show he is the slugger the Diamondbacks think he is.
But it appears there may be one late arrival to the party. Infielder Hector Olivera, who is expected to sign with a Major League team any day now.
Of course, we've been saying that for weeks, and the 29-year-old third baseman is still unsigned. It appears as if the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres are the leading contenders to land his services. Most scouts think he has a Major League-ready bat and a glove that's good enough to play in the Majors.
Source: Cuban INF Hector Olivera has agreed to a 6-year, $62.5 million deal with Dodgers. $28MM signing bonus. Check http://t.co/mkcBse7p5i— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) March 24, 2015
Right now, Juan Uribe is slated to be the Dodgers' Opening Day third baseman while the Padres have Yangervis Solarte and Will Middlebrooks atop the depth chart at the hot corner. Olivera would immediately step in and be the starter for either team.
But when Olivera does sign, how aggressive should you be in trying to grab him for your fantasy team? Is he the next Jose Abreu or Yasiel Puig? Highly unlikely. But he could be a solid Major League hitter for someone.
Statistics from his time in the Cuban professional baseball league aren't the best to go on, but they hopefully give some idea as to his strengths and weaknesses as a hitter.
Based on the numbers, Olivera has shown a good eye at the plate throughout his career, routinely piling up more walks than strikeouts with an on-base percentage that would be well above league average in the Majors. Of course, he'll see much better pitching here in the U.S., so it's unreasonable to expect his numbers to reach those levels.
Last August, Baseball America's Ben Badler wrote that Olivera was one of the more difficult Cuban prospects to project based on his injury history. He missed more than a full season because of a blood clot in his left arm, and there is worry that his right arm may need Tommy John surgery at some point, too. Badler gave Olivera a 2 on the Certainty Scale, which ranges from 1 (Least Certain) to 5 (Most Certain).
That being said, Olivera has performed well in his showcases for Major League teams, and he is expected to land a big, five- or six-year deal with someone, likely one of the two National League West teams mentioned above.
So where does that leave him in terms of fantasy? Although his Cuban numbers look good, his injury history is a bit scary. And while he appears to have been a dominant player from 2007 to 2011, the fact he missed all of 2012 is a red flag, and his 2013 season was definitely a step back from his peak.
In the end, I'd rather take a chance on players like Chase Headley or Pablo Sandoval, rather than risk a mid-round draft pick on an unknown quantity like Hector Olivera. If you can get him cheap in an auction league, say for $4 or $5, it might be worth the gamble based on the numbers from early in his career. And if you want to nab him as a back-up third baseman, that could be a smart move as well.
But I wouldn't alter my draft strategy to try and get him. At least not until he's proven he's healthy and can stick in the Majors for a little while.