Third base could be called a position of flux for much of the 2015 season for the Atlanta Braves.
Coming into the season, the hope was that offseason signing Alberto Callaspo could contribute significantly at the second base position. But Callaspo reported to spring training overweight and quickly lost that job. With Jace Peterson at second base, the Braves turned to a platoon at third base between Callaspo and Chris Johnson.
Neither Callaspo nor Johnson lit the world on fire, as Callaspo slashed a .206/.293/.252 line and Johnson .235/.272/.320.
Callaspo was included in a trade on May 27 with the Los Angeles Dodgers that brought Juan Uribe to Atlanta. Once Uribe arrived, Johnson's playing time was all but eliminated, and he was eventually traded to the Cleveland Indians in August.
Uribe quickly became a fan favorite as the Braves' primary third basemen for two months. In 46 games, he hit .285 with seven homers and 17 RBIs, and showed that he could still pick it at the hot corner. If nothing else, he gave fans a taste of poetic justice.
The first thought for many when Uribe was acquired was the devastating home run he hit in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS in 2013. The image burned in the memory banks is that of an infuriated Craig Kimbrel standing in the bullpen, as Fredi Gonzalez refused to go to him for more than an inning.
David Carpenter was on the bump in that woeful moment, and was in the Washington Nationals bullpen this season. He faced Uribe twice, and Uribe smashed a homer on the second try to make Braves fans everywhere smile just a little.
Anyways, back to the topic at hand.
After closer Jason Grilli went down with a torn achilles, the front office waved the white flag on the season and traded many of the team's veterans. Uribe and Kelly Johnson were shipped to the Mets on July 24, leaving the third base slot wide open.
Atlanta called up 30-year-old minor leaguer Adonis Garcia, who held down the position for the majority of August. Garcia struggled defensively, but left no question about his power. He hit ten homers with a slash line of .277/.293/.497 in just 198 plate appearances. His bat will undoubtedly give the organization something to think about next season.
But the guy who garnered the most attention at third base all season was Cuban defector Hector Olivera. The 30-year-old was acquired in a megadeal with the Dodgers just before the trade deadline. The Braves notably sent Alex Wood and top prospect Jose Peraza to Los Angeles.
Olivera signed a six-year, $62.5 million contract ($28 million of that was a signing bonus) in the offseason, and the Dodgers agreed to pay the entirety of his signing bonus as part of the deal. Olivera was working his way towards his major league debut in Los Angeles when he injured his hamstring while with Oklahoma City -- the Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate.
The Braves gave Olivera time to rehab the injury and re-acclimate himself at the minor league level before activating him September 1. For the rest of the season, he slashed .253/.310/.405 with a pair of homers and 11 RBIs.
For the 2016 season, the franchise has a couple of different directions it can go. Olivera will most certainly be an everyday player. Third base is a possibility along with left field. Garcia made in-roads this season and could be considered to start, but his shaky defense makes him most likely a bench bat and spot starter. Garcia made ten starts in left field, but is probably not a viable option out there for a whole season.
The Braves will see how Olivera progresses in winter ball before deciding exactly what to do with him. But to reiterate, one thing can be counted on: Hector Olivera will be a regular in the Atlanta Braves lineup in 2016.