Friedman and Byrnes among top executives at Olivera’s final open showcase
It was a packed house at Hector Olivera’s final public showcase in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, with reportedly over a hundred scouts and team executives in attendance, most notably Andrew Friedman and Josh Byrnes of the Dodgers. While the Dodgers had the strongest presence at the showcase, Ben Badler of Baseball America noted that a trio of other California teams also sent high-ranking executives to the event, with Athletics assistant GM Dan Kantrovitz, Giants assistant GM John Barr, and Padres senior advisor Logan White all attending.
Badler writes that Olivera “drove the ball with authority and out of the park to all fields” during batting practice and subsequently went 3-for-3 with a walk, hit by pitch and a pair of doubles at the event. Despite playing primarily at second base during his time in Cuba, Olivera manned the hot corner on Wednesday and is expected to be able to play either position at the big-league level.
Unlike recent Cuban defectors, Olivera, 29, is exiting his physical prime and comes with risk surrounding his health after missing the entire 2012-2013 campaign due to a blood clot and spending most of the 2013-2014 season at designated hitter. However, Badler writes that many teams project Olivera to be an above-average player who could hit at the top of a lineup as soon as he signs (which he should be eligible to do soon). Based on his own looks, Badler concludes that Olivera is a better talent than recent Cuban signees Rusney Castillo and Yasmany Tomas, and notes that several scouts share this opinion.
Olivera probably won’t end up getting as much money as either Castillo or Tomas given his age, but his major-league readiness is appealing and a late-offseason signing would make sense for the aforementioned West Coast clubs.
Given what we know from the scouting reports, Olivera would certainly be an improvement for the Padres over either Will Middlebrooks or Yangervis Solarte at third base, and A.J. Preller making one last big splash wouldn’t really surprise anyone at this point. With Ben Zobrist in the fray for the Athletics, they have the positional flexibility to get Olivera’s bat in the lineup and he could serve as insurance at third base for the oft-injured Brett Lawrie. The Giants missed out on Pablo Sandoval and Jon Lester, among others, with their biggest signing to date this offseason being Nori Aoki. Signing Olivera would make up for a quiet offseason to some extent and he would be an upgrade over Casey McGehee at third.
Finally, signing Olivera would result in a crowded infield situation for the Dodgers this upcoming season, but it would also allow the club to ease him in without the expectation of playing 150-plus games. That could be seen as a plus given the concerns about his ability to play a full season out of the gate. However, Olivera would have little trouble finding a spot in the infield beyond 2015 with the impending free agency of Howie Kendrick and Juan Uribe, making it easy to see why Friedman and Byrnes made the trip to see him firsthand.
Yadiel Alvarez also impresses in Dominican showcase
While Olivera was the name that got scouts excited at the Dominican air force base on Wednesday, one Cuban prospect that made a compelling first impression for many scouts was 18-year-old pitcher Yadiel Alvarez. Kiley McDaniel provided a series of tweets from the showcase about the six-foot-three right-hander, who sat 93-96 mph and touched 97 with his fastball, broke off a plus slider and flashed a changeup that McDaniel called “more than usable.”
McDaniel tweeted that Alvarez is fairly new to the Dominican Republic, with Wednesday just his second outing in front out scouts (according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Alvarez topped out at 98 MPH during his first outing last week). Hence, Alvarez is at least a month or two away from being cleared to sign with a major-league team, but he is expected to sign before the end of the international signing period on July 2. McDaniel expects that Alvarez will command a sizable financial commitment and with the teenager subject to the normal international spending restrictions you can expect the typical big international spenders to be in the mix once he’s eligible to sign.
Orioles expressing interest in Dustin McGowan
Dustin McGowan, the former first-round selection and once promising starting pitcher prospect, has had his career derailed by injuries, undergoing four surgeries between 2008-2012. Last year, he carved out a role at the back of the Blue Jays bullpen and went through the entire season completely healthy for the first time since 2007.
Toronto actually tried McGowan out in the rotation to begin 2014 but scrapped that plan in early May, and the right-hander enjoyed a two-mph bump in fastball velocity upon his transition to a reliever where he posted a 3.35 ERA and 36-to-16 strikeout-to-walk rate over 43 innings. While McGowan might not have the same arm strength he did coming up with the Jays, pitching out of the bullpen allowed him to sit at 95 with his sinker like he did during his 20s.
With the Orioles reportedly looking to add one more reliever before spring training, McGowan is one potential candidate for the club, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. General Manager Dan Duquette noted that he wants to add a reliever who can be effective against both righties and lefties, a role that McGowan—who utilizes a high-80s changeup to neutralize left-handed hitters—can fill.
McGowan would be just the latest converted reliever to join the Orioles bullpen, which is anchored by former starter Zach Britton and is also home to Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz. Britton thrived upon his conversion to the bullpen by becoming primarily a sinkerball pitcher last season, and while McGowan may not go to Britton’s extreme, his two-seam usage more than doubled to 55 percent last September. Granted, it was just one month, and I wasn’t able to find any quotes about McGowan consciously going away from his four-seamer, but relying more on a 95 mph sinker wouldn’t be a terrible idea for a reliever who doesn’t miss a ton of bats and generates groundballs at a below-average clip. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s a trend McGowan sustains early next season and we should find out soon if the Orioles are willing to take a chance on him.
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