Is Mike Olt the Chicago Cubs’ Next Third Baseman?
Entering spring training the third base job is there for the taking as far as Mike Olt is concerned. The Chicago Cubs have been searching for a third baseman ever since declining their option on Aramis Ramirez in 2011, and Olt has the skill-set to be the long-term answer. According to the 2013 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, “with plus raw power and a strong hitting approach, Olt is a threat to go deep anytime he steps to the plate.” Olt led the Double-A Texas League with 28 home runs and a .579 slugging percentage in 2012 which led to him being ranked as the 22nd best prospect in baseball heading into last season. After being hit in the head by a pitch in winter ball a year ago, Olt started experiencing problems with his vision and had a forgettable season at Triple-A last year hitting .201/.202/.381 with just 15 home runs in 107 games. On the plus side Olt maintained his exceptional walk rate at 13 percent between both the Cubs’ and the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliates, however, his strikeouts remained high and his power dropped off completely after being traded to the Cubs (.209 ISO to .107 ISO). Olt has said recently that his vision issues have been fixed, and if he can return to the player he was in 2012 the Cubs will have a big middle of the order bat to hit behind Anthony Rizzo.
While Olt has the potential to be a 30 home run player with high on-base percentages, he also provides plus defense at third base. According to Baseball America, “scouts say Olt is a joy to watch defensively, owing to his agility and ability to make throws from any angle.” All that stands in Olt’s way right now is Luis Valbuena and his sidekick Donnie Murphy.
While Valbuena has quietly been a productive player for the Cubs the past two seasons with 3.4 combined WAR in 198 games played, he is not a starting caliber player on a first division team. Shifting the tag-team platoon of Murphy and Valbuena to the bench gives the Cubs added depth and provides them with two players who can fill in all over the field. If Mike Olt fails to take the third base job in spring training, he likely will not have another shot with elite prospects Kris Bryant and Javier Baez equally capable of becoming the long-term answer at the hot corner.