Second Baseman Hector Olivera Defects from Cuba


Sep 17, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder

Rusney Castillo

(38) singles for his first major league hit against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Let baseball’s Cuban craze continue.

Baseball America‘s Ben Badler learned Wednesday  morning that another high upside player has defected from the island in pursuit of a big league career: second baseman Hector Olivera.

Olivera, 29, was ranked by BA as the sixth best player still in Cuba last month. 6’2 and 215 pounds, Olivera is “one of the most well-rounded players in Cuba,” Badler opined, “showing a combination of hitting ability, power, speed and size.”  In 273 plate appearances for Cuba’s Series Nacional this yearhe hit .316/.412/.474 with 7 home run and more walks than strikeouts. He beat out Jose Abreu for the Cuban home run derby in 2012, the same year he finished third in the league in slugging and fourth in on base percentage.

But, Badler notes, Olivera is something of an unknown quantity, the sketch of his talents even murkier than those of his countrymen.

A reported case of thrombosis in Olivera left bicep sidelined the slugger for all of the 2012-2013 season. He has returned this year and his stats are strong, but they pale next the .341/.462/.626 he posted in the 2012-2013 season and he missed the 2013 world baseball classic, meaning major league teams have not had the opportunity to scout Olivera since the injury.  Even if the bat holds up, his ability to play the field post-thrombosis is not clear. Olivera has played more games this year at DH than second base.

Scouts will have plenty of time to reach a verdict on the 10 year Series veteran. Olivera still has to establish residency in a third country, be cleared by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control, and be declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, a process that often takes months, before he can sign with a team. During that waiting period, expect the same slew of workouts and showcases that have surrounded Yosmany Tomas in recent weeks.

Between Jose Abreu’s 68 million dollar deal with the White Sox last August, Rusney Castillo’s recent 77.5 million dollar pact with the Red Sox and the rumored 100 million dollar price-tag on Tomas, the price on Cuban sluggers has skyrocketed since 2012, when Yoenis Cespedes‘ $36 million contract seemed expensive. Time – and scouting reports – will dictate whether Olivera can add his name to the ring of lottery winners.