Third baseman Mike Olt earned a spot on the Chicago Cubs‘ opening day roster with a solid effort during the spring, but his performance in the early going of 2014 has been somewhat disappointing in a limited role. While Olt may or may not develop into a productive player long-term, the Cubs should be using him in a more practical manner, with an eye to the near future.
Currently, Olt is being platooned at third base with left-handed Luis Valbuena to create favorable matchups for both players. Although it is still early in the season, this arrangement has not exactly been advantageous for either player. While Olt is second on the team with six homers and tied for second with 16 RBIs, his batting average leaves a lot to be desired.
After a 2-for-4 performance against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday night that included a grand slam, Olt is now hitting .184 on the season. This average is accompanied by a disturbing K/BB ratio of 28/6. The power production is certainly encouraging, but these other numbers need to improve.
The Cubs acquired Olt from the Texas Rangers as part of the Matt Garza trade last season. The 25-year-old third baseman was considered a top prospect back in 2012, so much so that the Rangers appeared unwillingly to include him in any deals. Olt had a huge year in the Texas League before being called up to the big leagues for a cup of coffee at the end of that season. However, due to vision problems possibly resulting from a concussion, Olt struggled in 2013 and his stock subsequently plummeted.
It seemed clear during the spring that the Cubs were hoping Olt would seize the third base gig long-term. However, while it was assumed that they would allow him to play on a regular basis, this has not been the case. Olt has struggled, at least in terms of batting average, in the part-time scenario, leaving many to wonder if he would be better served seeing more consistent playing time.
This is destined to be yet another ugly season for the Cubs record-wise, which makes it all the more curious why Olt is not playing on a more consistent basis. It remains to be seen whether or not Olt will become a solid everyday contributor at the big-league level, but this is an ideal time to confirm his future value. Valbuena is certainly useful as a role player, but he is not a part of the Cubs’ future.
Olt could be a part of the long-term plan in theory, but this needs to be determined now. His status could directly impact the positional future of other players in the system, most notably top prospects Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, making it critical for the Cubs to figure this out sooner rather than later.