After struggling with the Texas Rangers to meet the high expectations they had for him, Mike Olt hoped a change of scenery would be what he needed. After winning the third base job out of camp for the Chicago Cubs, it looked as if Olt had turned the corner. But besides showcasing his power, he found himself struggling throughout the 2014 season.
When the Cubs acquired Olt from Texas in the Matt Garza trade, they felt like they were getting a player whose results weren’t indicative of his ability. A vision issue had caused Olt to have difficulty picking up pitches,but he started to have some improvement at the plate before the end of the 2013 season. After a solid spring helped to win him the starting third base job, there was a hope the Cubs had found their next third baseman, thus avoiding another dry spell as they did after Ron Santo. It took almost 30 years before Aramis Ramirez was able to break that curse.
It didn’t take long for him to start showing off the power, hitting his first home run as a Cub in just his third game. The big hits would continue to follow, but an alarming regularity formed with it. Strikeouts. Lots of them. With 100 strikeouts in 258 at-bats, Olt was becoming a liability at the plate.
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Along with that, he essentially became an all or nothing hitter, as 20 of his 36 hits were for extra-bases (8 2B, 12 HR). Eventually Renteria began a platoon system with Luis Valbuena, but with few lefty matchups, Olt’s chances became few and far between.
The Cubs decided to send him down in late July to get more regular at-bats. With Kris Bryant then at Triple-A Iowa, most of his time was at first base or DH. After a one month stint in the minors, Olt returned to the Cubs during September call ups, and fared much better over the last month of the season. In 17 games, he batted .263 (10-for-38), with three RBIs and six walks, while striking out 16 times. The most noticeable difference was Olt was putting the ball in play without feeling he needed the big swing everytime.
One positive for Olt was the solid defense he played, after having shoulder issues most of spring training. He looked sharp at the hot corner, and his arm seemed to show no ill affects. But alas, defense isn’t good enough alone to keep you on the field, as Darwin Barney learned as well this season.
The third base position for the Cubs will still be open in likelihood entering 2015. Olt is also likely to see some work in the corner outfield spots as well. The team has in no way given up on Olt, but he is going to have to earn every at-bat from here with Bryant on the way up. With the talent the team has coming up, no one’s job is promised.