Olivera to play some LF in Puerto Rico

Braves hope decision enhances his versatility on defense

Olivera to play some LF in Puerto Rico

ATLANTA -- The Braves view Hector Olivera as a middle-of-the-lineup asset that could benefit their offense over the next five seasons. Olivera's long-term defensive role will be better understood after he spends some time playing left field in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

After spending the past couple weeks evaluating their options, the Braves decided it would be in Olivera's best interest to enhance his defensive options. Thus the 30-year-old Cuban will play both third base and left field during his six-week stint in Puerto Rico with Criollos de Caguas.

Still, the Braves have made it clear that this does not mean they are hoping to use Olivera as their primary left fielder next year. It's simply a decision that enhances his defensive versatility and provides the club a chance to get a feel for what their needs might be over the next few years.

Before exiting Cuba and signing a six-year, $62.5 million deal with the Dodgers earlier this year, Olivera had been primarily used as a second baseman. Once he began his professional career in the United States, he transitioned to third base. But because a hamstring injury sidelined him most of the summer, he ended up playing just 21 games (168 innings) at the hot corner with the Braves in 2015.

It seems too early to project where Olivera might fit long term on a defensive basis. But when the Braves were pursuing him as a free agent this past winter, there was talk that he would likely end up as a left fielder if he signed with Atlanta.

Although Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn might not be viewed as everyday options, they will both return to Atlanta as left field options, unless the Braves are able to creatively move at least one of those contracts. Adonis Garcia stands as another option to occasionally use in left field or at third base.

Despite the limited range he showed during his short time playing third base, Olivera appears to be a better defensive option at third base than Garcia.

Unless the Braves take a chance on David Freese or find another option via trade, Olivera might actually be the club's best option at third base for at least another year. But there is still reason to plan for the strong possibility that he could end up in left field before his contract expires after the 2020 season.

Although it might be debatable whether Rio Ruiz is capable of becoming Atlanta's third baseman by 2017, Austin Riley has spent the first few months of his professional career giving the Braves reason to wonder if his reign as their third baseman could begin as early as 2018.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.