Olivo improves along with his English
Rockies' new catcher made surprising strides for KC in '09
DENVER -- The request is one made of parents everywhere. Will you help me with my homework?The request was troublesome at first for new Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo. Little did he know, improving his ability to comply would also help him do the homework he needed to complete to make strides on the field.
In 2009 with the Royals, Olivo went from suspect in his calling of pitches to so trusted that American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke had him behind the plate for all but one of his starts.A native of the Dominican Republic, English is a distant second language. But he and his wife, Gloria, have four elementary-school-aged children in Modesto, Calif. -- Sergio, 11; Miguel Jr. and Alexey, both 9; and Minaya, 8; and they needed dad to close the distance. Olivo, 31, loves children. He and his wife adopted Sergio and Alexey, and Olivo said he also is active with Gloria's two children from another marriage, Alex, 22, and Erica, 18. But he realized assisting them academically has to go along with the love. "My wife, Gloria, helped me a lot -- she pushed me to read a newspaper a lot," Olivo said. "My children, they push me to help them with their homework. Little by little, I'm getting better. I still have a lot more to learn about reading. "You need to do it. I felt bad when they came to their dad and I couldn't help. I want to spend more time with them. So I learned to read a little bit, and I think that helped me a little bit, too." It caused some reflection on the part of Olivo, 31, who debuted with the White Sox in 2002 and has been with them, the Mariners, the Padres, the Marlins and the Royals. Olivo is known as a catcher capable of putting a charge into the ball. He has finished five seasons, including the last four, in double figures in home runs, culminating in a career-high 23 last year. Last season, with the insistence of Royals pitching coach Bob McClure, Olivo began pushing to become more complete. "I did it a lot more last year," Olivo said. "I put more time in the video room with all the pitchers, like Zack Greinke and those guys. I treated it like school, learning the scouting report. The thing was early in my career, I did not speak very good English. Now, I understand more, and it's become easier for me." McClure and Olivo became close. They developed a system for preparing for an opponent. Rather than starting with the often voluminous scouting report, Olivo's study would start with video, often on the team plane. Then, Olivo, using his improving English skills, would focus on the supplemental information he needed. "Athletically he's really good -- he can run, hit with power, throw," McClure said. "But he really focused on calling the game. What I like about him is he really cares about his pitchers. He didn't care if he went 0-for-4 if his pitcher won the game, and that's rare when you're able to hit like he can." Olivo signed a one-year, $2.5 million guaranteed deal with a 2011 option to join the Rockies' catching tandem and replace Yorvit Torrealba, who on Wednesday was on the verge of completing a one-year deal with the Padres. Olivo will join Chris Iannetta, who signed a three-year, $8.3 million contract this winter. Torrealba supplanted Iannetta last season and finished with a career-best .291 batting average. The Rockies went to the playoffs with Torrealba as their principal catcher in 2007 as well as last season, and Iannetta and Olivo will be called upon to replace Torrealba's leadership and energy as much as his production. Olivo brings a couple of advantages. Torrealba did not hit for power, while Olivo's 67 homers over the last four seasons rank fourth among Major League catchers. Olivo also represents an upgrade in controlling the running game. He threw out 28.2 percent (22 of 78) of basestealers last season, third-best among American League catchers. Last season, Iannetta threw out 23.1 percent (15 of 65) and Torrealba, who dealt with shoulder injuries in recent years, threw out 0.75 percent (4 of 53). But Olivo comes to Colorado with an area to improve -- his on-base percentage. It was .292 last season, and has been over .300 for a full season only once in his career. The 19 walks he drew last year were one shy of his career high. "When I have men on base, I try to make the RBI," he said. "I like to swing hard, make contact and get runs to home plate, try to win games. I'm not calling myself a power hitter, but things happen, and last year I got a couple home runs. "I'm pretty proud of myself. I've come a long way, but I'm trying to be more patient at home plate. I hope this year things go better, I get more walks and more runs. That's what the team needs to win games."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.