Hector Olivera arrived in the vicinity of Atlanta Thursday, making his debut just up I-85 with the Gwinnett Braves. He won't be in Triple A long enough for Gwinnett to have a Hector Olivera Bobblehead Night.
Olivera, a Cuban defector who was the central piece for the Braves in a three-team, 13-player trade, had a successful night. He went 2-for-3 with two singles, a walk and a run scored. That's significantly better than he did in his first six games in the organization after the July 30 trade, having gone 1-for-17 (0-for-5 in the Gulf Coast League and 1-for-12 with Single A Rome).
My post-game conversation with Olivera is below.
Olivera's name was written on a piece of tape above his locker, adjacent to Christian Bethancourt.
Manager Brian Snitker said he didn't "know anything" about Olivera, but laughed, adding, "But I have him playing third and hitting third."
Yeah. He knew something.
Olivera said through a translator that expects to play only three games or four games with Gwinnett. That lines up with the Braves' return home for a three-game series against Colorado at Turner Field that starts Monday.
The Los Angeles Dodgers won a bidding war for Olivera, giving him a six-year, $62.5 million contract in March that included a $28 million signing bonus. He hit .348 (24 for 69) in 19 games in the Dodgers system. The Braves' interest in the 30-year-old didn't continued -- so much so that they were willing to part with a successful young pitcher (Alex Wood) in the trade.
Therein lies the gamble. Wood was a proven commodity, Olivera isn't. But Braves president of baseball operations John Hart and assistant John Coppolella felt it was time to use the organization's pitching depth to acquire some needed hitting, and they believe Olivera, who will play third base in the majors, fills that void. The Braves also are not responsible for Olivera's $28 million signing bonus.
Here's a transcript of my post-game conversation with Olivera with the help of translator Alex Cotto:
Question: How does it feel to be so close to the majors now?
Answer: "I’m very excited. This is something I’ve strived for and now I’m close to experiencing it and being at that level. I’m three or four games away from being ready to go up and face that challenge."
Q: What's the plan in terms of how many games you’ll play with Gwinnett?
A: "If everything goes as planned and I feel 100 percent, the plan as far as I know is to play three games here and then, depending on how everything looks at the end of the three games, if I'm ready to go up, maybe Monday, that's the plan. But that’s a call (the Braves) have to make. I feel I’m three or four games away from being ready.
Q: In the first six games after the trade, you didn’t hit well in the Gulf Coast League or with Rome. Do you feel you were pressing?
A: "I just look at it as part of the process. I don’t think much about it. I haven’t played in quite some time so it’s just part of the process of getting back to the level I need to. I’m almost there. Today went well, I’m just a little bit off."
Q: The Braves gave up a lot in the trade to get you. Do you feel more pressure to perform because of that?
A: "I don’t worry about those things. This is a business. I’ve learned that. I’m here to help the Braves win. One thing that the fans and everybody in the front office should know is when I’m out there playing I’m going to give 100 percent for me and my teammates. I don’t spend time thinking about the outside things I can’t control."
Q: The Dodgers spent a lot of money to get you. Were you surprised when they traded you?
A: "As I’ve said in previous interviews, I don’t have any hard feelings towards the Dodgers. I’m thankful for the opportunity they gave me. But I’m here to help the Braves and I know the future of the Braves is bright and I want to be a part of it."
Q: How many words of English do you speak?
A (Olivera answers in English for the only time): “Yes and no.”
The G-Braves' welcomed Olivera on their Twitter account: