The front office realizes the on the field product at the Major League level must improve. And while the plan has not changed to build the organization from the ground up for sustained success, a part of the building process includes winning games at the big league level.
One of the many young players the Cubs have acquired over the last two years is third baseman Mike Olt, and it appears he will be given the opportunity to man the hot corner for the Cubs on Opening Day in Pittsburgh.
A report from Gordon Wittenmyer, posted by Baseball America, quoted then farm director Brandon Hyde as saying the Cubs are hopeful Mike Olt will be in a position to compete for a big league job in the spring.
Mike Olt has a big bat and is known as an excellent fielder. But his career took several steps back after he was beaned last winter during a game in the Dominican Republic. The Cubs decided to give Olt this winter off and so he could hit the proverbial reset button on his career. Olt worked out at the Cubs’ facility in Mesa after the minor league season ended before returning home to continue his off-season conditioning program. Olt is expected to return to Mesa after the holidays to prepare for Spring Training.
Mike Olt had a rough year, one that saw him go from an untouchable top prospect to be included in a five-player deal that sent Matt Garza to the Rangers last July. Baseball America ranked Olt the second best prospect in a stacked Rangers’ system prior to the 2013 season and most minor league experts listed Olt as one of the top 25 prospects in baseball.
Mike Olt hit .288/.398/.579 in 95 games at the Double-A level in 2012 with 17 doubles, one triple and 28 home runs for a .977 OPS. Olt made his big league debut with Texas in August of 2012 and did not fare too well in limited action due to planter fasciitis in his left foot. Olt managed a .152/.250/.182 slash line in 16 games, 40 plate appearances. Olt ended up being named the Rangers’ Minor League Player of the Year after the season he put together in Double-A.
Olt was hit in the head playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic last year and suffered a concussion. Olt missed about a week but was able to finish the season. Olt dealt with vision problems, thought to be associated with the concussion, but a tear-duct problem was diagnosed during the season after numerous trips to various doctors to try to determine exactly what was wrong with him.
Even after the diagnosis, Olt continued to struggle at the plate. Triple-A teammate Manny Ramirez thought he found something in Olt’s swing and corrected it. Olt had a good stretch before slipping back into his slump. Olt ended up with a .168/.276/.275 slash line in 39 games with Iowa that included three doubles, one triple and three home runs.
Jon Daniels spoke with Patrick Mooney about Mike Olt and the Rangers’ GM expects him to be a “successful big leaguer.” Daniels thinks Olt is “too athletic” and his “makeup is too good” for him not to be. Olt’s former boss is hoping, like the Cubs, that he can bounce back from a rough year.
A look at the third base prospects in the Cubs’ system indicates the front office is more than just hoping for Mike Olt to be at third base for the big league team on Opening Day. Jason McLeod is on record saying that Christian Villanueva will be Iowa’s third baseman next season, and it appears Kris Bryant will begin the year at Double-A Tennessee which could move Jeimer Candelario up to High-A Daytona, but the 20-year old Candelario will likely report back to Low-A Kane County to begin the season. As for Josh Vitters, the Cubs moved him to left field and his days at third base appear to be over, at least on a full-time basis.
If Mike Olt can get back on track, the Cubs might have another (good) problem on their hands, and if he cannot the likes of Luis Valbuena and possibly Donnie Murphy will continue to keep third base warm until Kris Bryant, or Javier Baez, is ready for The Show.