Signed by the New York Yankees as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2014, outfielder Pablo Olivares hasn’t drawn a great deal of attention as a prospect. Even so, he could be a very safe bet to become a Jon Jay-type player, who provides a little bit of everything.
Making his pro debut with the Yankees 1 team in the 2015 Dominican Summer League, Olivares was only 17 years old when he hit the field. At the time, the tools were somewhat raw and he was just learning to harness them. In 32 games with the team, Olivares held his own, slashing .267/.370/.359 (OPS .729). While he finished with a scant eight extra-base hits (four doubles, four triples), he also made frequent contact and rarely struck out (17 K in 154 PA). His 31 runs scored were, at least in part, a result of his above-average speed and long strides on the base-paths.
The 2016 season reinforced that initial performance, with Olivares advancing to the GCL Yankees West team. While he experienced a spike in his gap power, finishing with 13 doubles and two triples in 47 games, he still kept whiffs to a bare minimum (25 in 186 PA).
He finished the season with a 135 wRC+, an improvement on his 116 wRC+ in 2015, his gap-hitting ability and base-running skill playing no small role.
While he played a further 23 games in the rookie leagues, this time with Pulaski in the Appalachian League (.363 BA, .983 OPS in 104 PA), he also continued to show a penchant for frequent contact and a good eye at the plate (16 BB, 14 K). Olivares spent the rest of the year with the Charleston RiverDogs in the South Atlantic League, where he had his first true struggles in pro ball (4 XBH, .443 OPS, 33 wRC+ in 36 games). Granted, he was only nineteen when he hit full-season ball.
This season has gone much better for him, as he returned to Charleston for 52 games and posted a .881 OPS with 11 doubles and four homers while driving in 24 and scoring 27 runs. His bat-to-ball skills were even more evident, as he hit .342 over 184 at-bats (16 BB, 32 K). For this, he earned a promotion to Class-A Advanced Tampa in the Florida State League, where he has held his own over 14 games (2 HR, 4 RBI, .716 OPS, 109 wRC+ over 50 PA).
Olivares has shown that he can put a bit of a charge into the ball, though at the moment he has nothing resembling home-run power, with a high of four homers in 52 games this year with Charleston, and two more with Tampa. As frequently as he barrels up, he could end up with marginal power as he puts on a bit more weight. He could become an ideal #2 hitter, at his peak, considering his current profile and ability to put the ball in play. He’s not going to walk much, but when you get on base this often it doesn’t hurt an awful lot.
Olivares historically has used the whole field, though in Charleston this year he was a dead-pull hitter (55.8% pull). Ideally, he settles into the Florida State League and continues to spray the ball around, as this is when he is his most effective. He has a slap-hitting swing, at times, but can slice the ball to the opposite field in the gap or down the line. Again, this is when he isn’t trying to pull the ball for power, of which he currently has little.
In the field, Olivares covers enough ground to stay in center for now (though left field is probably in his future), and has recorded ten assists in center (15 overall in 182 games at various outfield spots). His eight career errors can be overlooked, in large part because he should mature as an outfielder and refine his routes. Also, keep in mind that Olivares has been at least a year below league-average age for every league in which he has played, so far. He’s currently 20 years old and playing in High-A, two-and-a-half years younger than the average player.
Olivares is a smart base-runner, so he’ll swipe a few bags, here and there. Ten or fifteen steals per season shouldn’t be a stretch, if he picks his spots well.
He’s not a top-prospect type, and his hit tool is probably his best one, but Olivares seems to do everything well enough to suggest that he’s a high-floor type who could become an above-average hitter for average in the majors, with extra-base pop and a discerning eye at the plate. If not a starter, he could be an ideal option off the bench who can fill in at left and center.
Safe profiles like his can be valuable as role-players and occasional starters, at worst, but at his age he has plenty of time to out-distance these projections. Either way, he’s worth following.