Short Hops: Braves third basemen review/preview

FOXSportsSouth.com’s team of Braves writers are taking a look back at 2015, position by position, and breaking down what we know heading into what figures to be another busy offseason. Next up, third base.

9: Hector Olivera hit over .300 nine times in his 10 seasons playing professional baseball in Cuba. His career average over the 10 seasons was .323

28: The Braves avoided paying Olivera the $28 million signing bonus handed down by the Dodgers by trading for him instead of signing him back in May.

.066: Olivera’s average against left-handed pitchers in 15 at-bats with the Braves. Including minor league at-bats, Olivera was 4 for 41 with 10 strikeouts last season against lefties.

1. Will Hector Olivera live up to the lofty expectations in 2016?

The expectations are almost unfair to Olivera in some ways. As a rookie who has fewer than 100 plate appearances in the majors, there should be some growing pains expected from him … but because of the amount given up for him, Olivera will need to produce strong numbers to satisfy most in 2016.

For the Braves to give away Alex Wood, one of Atlanta’s best starters over the past three years, and Jose Peraza, a highly ranked position prospect, the front office must believe that Olivera can be the middle-of-the-lineup bat to protect first baseman Freddie Freeman that the team desperately needs.

While he didn’t show much of that promise in limited time last season, the numbers from Cuba and all of the scouting reports suggest that Olivera has all of the tools to perform on baseball’s biggest stage. Expectations should be tempered a bit, but Olivera has the ability to hit near .300 with 15 to 20 home runs in his first full season with the Braves.

2. Is Olivera the long-term answer at third base?

After a seemingly effortless transition from MVP third baseman Terry Pendleton to MVP third baseman Chipper Jones, the Braves have, once again, the revolving door problem at third base in recent years.

Chris Johnson challenged for the batting title in 2013 and received a contract extension to be the answer at the position, but his struggles began quickly and the Braves traded him away last season. Since Jones’ retirement in 2012, the Braves have fielded 14 different players at third base, including nine in 2015. With the addition of Olivera, the belief is that that door has been closed, and Olivera is the long-term answer at third. His contract will last through his age-35 season in 2020.

Even though Olivera’s defensive play at third caused some concerns in a small sample size, his tools are there, and the Braves expect to coach him up through Winter League play so he’s ready for next year. As long as Olivera can be the above-average defender that scouts projected him as, his bat should be more than enough to give the club some stability that the position has been lacking.

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3. Where will Adonis Garcia play?

Garcia was a pleasant surprises in 2015 with his late emergence as one of the only powerful bats in the Braves lineup. He hit 10 home runs in fewer than 200 at-bats after hitting just three in more than 300 at-bats with Triple-A Gwinnett. With a 113 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) and 0.9 WAR in his limited time with the club, Garcia was one of the four productive bats with the team in the second half of the season.

Once Olivera was acquired, Garcia’s time at third base was thought to be over, but because of Olivera’s poor splits against left-handers and Garcia’s .328 average against them, the position was treated more like a platoon role. That likely won’t be the case in 2016 as Olivera takes over as the everyday player there, but Garcia showed sufficient defense in left field, which is a huge position of need for the club.

Unless the team goes out and signs a left fielder in free agency or moves Nick Markakis across the outfield to man the spot, Garcia seems like the top prospect to earn the role on opening day.