With the exceptions of Mitch Keller and Ke’Bryan Hayes, most of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top prospects are likely years away from contributing to the major league ball club. As a result, Pirates fans have been clamoring for news of additional prospects in the organization who could potentially be promoted soon.
Outfield prospect Jared Oliva presents one of those prospects who is on the cusp of being promoted this season. Oliva spent all of last season with the Pirates Double-A affiliate Altoona Curve, where he initially struggled to get acclimated to the higher level.
However, after scuffling in the first half of the season, Oliva would go on a torrid stretch in the second half of the season and would finish strongly enough to be awarded Altoona’s 2019 Most Valuable Player.
During the 2019 season, Oliva would compile statistics that included a .277 batting average, 70 runs scored, six home runs, 42 runs batted in, and 36 stolen bases in 447 at-bats with Altoona.
Oliva would parlay his breakout campaign with the Curve into a dominant performance in the Arizona Fall League, where he would be named an All-Star after finishing with a .312 batting average, a league-best in doubles (12) and stolen bases (11), while finishing second in the league in hits (29), walks (14) and runs scored (18).
As a reward for his impressive breakout season in 2019, the Pirates announced that Oliva would be one of 11 non-roster invites to spring training this year. While it is expected that the 24-year old prospect will need some seasoning with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians before joining Pittsburgh, he has an opportunity to prove otherwise in spring training.
Jared Oliva, the 6’3” and 205-pound son of former Boston Red Sox player David Oliva, was not a highly recruited player out of Valencia High School in California. As a result, he ended up being a walk-on at the University of Arizona, where he played three seasons with the Wildcats.
As a junior at Arizona, Oliva hit .321 for the team, who would ultimately lose to Coastal Carolina in the College World Series, which helped propel him to become the 7th round pick of the Pirates in the 2017 Major League Baseball draft.
Oliva has had proven success at every level of the minor leagues so far. His success has led him to become the 11th ranked prospect in the Pirates organization. His perseverance, leadership, maturity, and determination have allowed him to go from a player who was barely recruited in high school and a walk-on in college to one of the best prospects in Pittsburgh’s organization.
On a scale of 20-80 with 50 being average, Oliva has a hit tool ranking of 45, a raw power ranking of 55, a speed ranking of 60, a fielding ranking of 50 and a throwing ranking of 50. Outside of his speed and raw power rankings, everything else projects at average or below.
Oddly, the power has not translated to Oliva’s game and his ability to hit has been a strength. He has hit .266 or better across every level of the minor leagues while hitting a career-high nine home runs in 2018. His .398 slugging percentage and .121 ISO last season are indicative of a lack of power.
Perhaps adding a bit more mass and strength to his frame and increasing his launch angle could result in additional power in the future. However, even if the power does not ever come, Oliva has the other skills to be a successful major league outfielder.
He possesses the ability to get on-base at a solid rate and his 8.3% walk rate and a 20.5% strikeout rate represent a player with a good eye in the box. Oliva’s ability to steal bases with success (80% success rate) and his solid defense are perhaps his strongest assets.
Averaging 34.5 stolen bases through his first two full seasons in the minor leagues, Oliva is a menace on the base paths. If he can continue to get on base regularly and have a respectable batting average, he has the makings of a very good leadoff hitter.
Currently, Oliva’s ceiling projects as a player who hits .280, with 12 home runs, and who can steal 35+ bases per season. That kind of production would be welcomed by the Pirates and their fans alike.
It will be worth watching to see if Oliva can carry over the success he had last season with Altoona and in the Arizona Fall League to spring training this year. If he can, there is a plausible chance that the Pirates may have a viable replacement to fill the vacancy in center field left by the trade of Starling Marte.