There’s no way that if Mike Olt’s vision issues are behind him, that he’s not the favorite to play third base for the Cubs in 2014.
Despite comments from organizational leadership insisting that some combination of Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy are the top choices heading into Spring Training, a healthy Olt would completely change the feel of the Cubs infield. According to Sun-Times beat writer Gordon Wittenmeyer, Olt says he’s past those issues.
“The past couple days I’ve taken live BP, and just getting in there and just picking up some things, I definitely think I’m ahead of schedule for how I usually am at this time. I think that’s more of a sign.”
Olt, who was acquired in the trade that sent Matt Garza to Texas last summer, was a major question mark following a disastrous 2013 campaign in which he hit just .201/.303/.381, spending time split between Double-A and Triple-A in both the Rangers’ and Cubs’ systems.
Those numbers are a stark contrast from his career marks in the minors, where he has slashed .258/.365/.479 over four seasons, including a dominant performance with Double-A Frisco in 2012, where he hit 28 home runs and drove in 82 runs in just 95 games. It was this performance that landed him the nod as baseball’s #22 overall prospect, according to Baseball America prior to last season.
Now, it’s all about proving the doubters wrong.
“I know that I belong. I belong in the big leagues. I’ve just got to make sure I stay healthy and make sure I’m on everything and just let my abilities take over. I’ve still got a lot of time, and I’ve still got a lot to work on. But it’s definitely more fun for me right now to know that I’m on the right path.”
Should Olt make the big league club out of Spring Training, the Chicago infield has a much different feel. Olt is viewed largely as a player capable of 20 home runs at the Major League level, but it’s not unreasonable to think he’ll need some time to adjust. The mere threat of power from Olt, though, coupled with bounce back campaign’s from Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, as well as the continued improvement of Welington Castillo, is enough to see this club as more of a 75-80 win club, rather than a 65-70 win club in 2014.
Chicago needs someone to handle the hot corner; although what role Olt – or any other third baseman – will play long-term remains questionable, given the promising start first-round pick Kris Bryant got off to last year in his first professional season. Bryant make stay at third base or he could shift to the outfield in coming years. However, even if that were the case, top prospect Javier Baez could end up as a third baseman, should the team decide to hold onto shortstop Starlin Castro. No matter what, the depth on the left side of the infield is something this club has lacked, and if this is the issue it causes, then so be it.
Regardless, a healthy Olt in 2014 could be a large piece in the team starting to turn the corner in the massive rebuilding effort.