With two long home runs under the lights on Wednesday against the Seattle Mariners, Mike Olt laid his claim to the third base job for the Chicago Cubs. While Olt still has yet to play the position this spring, sticking to DH and first base while resting a dead arm, the main obstacle in his pursuit of the third base job is recognizing pitches and gaining comfort at the plate. If Wednesday night was any indication, Olt is seeing the ball just fine.
What helps Olt’s chances nearly as much as his thunderous bat is the performance of his competition. Luis Valbuena has just two hits in 14 at-bats, while Donnie Murphy is just 4-for-20. Veteran third baseman Ryan Roberts is performing well, 5-for-16 with two doubles, although he remains a long-shot to make the team.
While Olt has impressed with his power and appears to be the front-runner to win the Opening Day third base job, his three home runs and .333 batting average in 21 at-bats do not tell the whole story. It would appear from the stats that Olt is seeing the ball well at the plate, however, he also has seven strikeouts with zero walks so far this spring. Strikeouts are part of Olt’s game, as they are for a lot of power hitters, but striking out at a rate of 33 percent is prohibitive to consistent production on offense.
When Olt had his breakout season in 2012 that led to him being ranked as the No. 22 overall prospect in baseball, he had an acceptable but still elevated strikeout rate of 24 percent. To counteract the strikeouts, Olt supplements his on-base percentage by taking walks at a well-above average rate that was consistently around 13 percent in the minor leagues. This is why it is a little concerning that Olt has not taken a walk so far this spring.
It is understandable, though, for a player who is trying to win a job and prove his worth on offense that Olt is going to swing the bat if he gets a pitch to make good contact with. Olt stung the ball to all fields during his his 3-for-4 night with three runs batted in, and after watching the ball jump off his bat, it’s easier to let his walk to strikeout rate slide for now.
There is also the question of how can Olt win the third base job if he is yet to actually play the position this spring? However, Olt’s defense at third is the last area of his game that anyone with the Cubs is worried about, and there is plenty of time left for Olt to reacquaint himself with the hot corner. Part of his elite prospect ranking a couple years ago was due to Olt’s gold glove caliber defense at third base. Olt is a smooth defender with soft hands and a strong arm, and this is just one more reason why the Cubs would love for him to win the third base job outright this spring.
If Mike Olt can continue to sting the baseball and prove that he is seeing the ball the way he did in 2012, his addition to the infield would be a huge step forward for the Cubs in their pursuit of legitimacy in the National League. Olt’s presence provides the Cubs with an enviable logjam at third base and gives the team dynamic flexibility with their roster as Javier Baez and Kris Bryant start knocking on the door of the Major Leagues. With a combination of power, high on-base percentage and plus defense, Mike Olt has a chance to take the Cubs’ third base job and run with it.
If Olt can play up to the potential that he is showing now he will easily win the starting job at third base for the Cubs in 2014. If you want to make a decision for yourself, the best way is to see Olt play in person by getting Cubs tickets here.