Slugger Mike Olt has officially made the Chicago Cubs’ 25-man roster heading into the 2014 season, but his initial role on the team is still unknown. While Olt has proved that his vision issues are behind him with an OPS of .898 this spring, Luis Valbuena has been even more impressive with six home runs and an OPS of 1.1716 in 39 at-bats.
The caveat here is that Spring Training stats are next to meaningless. However, the left-handed Valbuena and the right-handed Olt could form an intriguing platoon at third base.
The problem is that for a young player like Mike Olt, both the fans and the organization would like to see that player allotted with consistent playing time in order to ensure proper development. In Olt’s situation though, he is still recovering from a sore shoulder that has bothered him throughout camp and a part-time role initially may be the best course of action.
Development aside, when purely looking at third base from a competitive standpoint, a platoon sounds like the best use of the Cubs’ current roster. However, a closer look at the splits reveals a different story. During Olt’s breakout 2012 campaign in which he led the Texas League with 28 home runs, he was just as good against righties as he was against lefties.
In 326 plate appearances against right-handed pitching, Olt hit 20 home runs with an OPS of .932, compared to eight home runs and an OPS of .925 in 135 plate appearances against left-handed pitching. In 2011 and 2013 though (small sample size caveat), the split was more pronounced as Olt fared much better against left-handed pitching.
With Valbuena, the picture of his splits is just as cloudy. Valbuena primarily faced right-handed pitching in 2013 and put up an OPS of .715 in 353 plate appearances. Against left-handed pitchers, his OPS was similar at .647 in 38 plate appearances. For his career, Valbuena has actually hit lefties better than righties, with an OPS of .712 against LHP compared to an OPS of .644 against RHP.
The numbers tell us that Valbuena simply isn’t very good no matter what kind of pitcher is on the mound and despite his strong spring, it would make the most sense to give Olt the 3B job and allow him to develop as the Cubs’ primary 3B.
If the Cubs do want to use a platoon in the infield, it would nice to have Valbuena fill in at both second base and third base, depending on how well Darwin Barney is performing at the plate. The bottom line is that the Cubs will have flexibility to play the hot hand or the most advantageous matchup all season long. In addition, if Olt gets off to a fast start, manager Rick Renteria will certainly continue to pencil him into the lineup every day at the expense of Valbuena.
By utilizing players such as Valbuena and Emilio Bonifacio in utility roles, the Cubs can feature a dynamic roster this season that has the ability to evolve in any way necessary. There is no way to predict exactly how this will all play out for the Cubs in 2014, and this gives fans some excitement heading into what is expected to be another losing season on the North Side.
Expectations aside, with the intelligent use of platoons and the upside of youth, I’m still holding out hope that the Cubs can be the surprise team of 2014.