Let me start off by saying that I am really pulling for Mike Olt to put it together this year because it would be a huge boost to the team. He has legit power and this would give the team some options on what they can do with Kris Bryant (start him at AAA, move him to LF, etc.)
The case of Mike Olt is a curious one for sure; he was a high draft pick who performed very well once he started in the minors, but had some health issues and has yet to regain the promise he once had. This has led many to accuse him of being a bust, though the jury is still out. So let’s take a look at all the evidence and come up with a final verdict on Mike Olt.
Olt was selected 49th overall in the 2010 MLB Draft out of the University of Connecticut by the Texas Rangers. He signed quickly enough to play 69 for short-season Spokane, where he slashed .293/.390/.464 with 9 HRs and 43 RBI.
He then played a handful of games in rookie ball before spending the rest of 2011 in High-A, where he again played about 70 games and slashed .267/.387/.504 with 14 HRs and 42 RBI. After this season he was ranked in the mid-40s by pre-season prospect lists heading into 2012.
In 2012, he spent the season in AA for the Rangers and had his best season yet as a pro; .288/.398/.579, 28 HRs, and 82 RBI. He got called up to the Rangers for 16 games at the end of the year and saw his already impressive stock rise on pre-season prospect lists (22nd on MLB.com and Baseball America, and 30th on Baseball Prospectus).
Olt then struggled during Spring Training in 2013, hitting only .194 and striking out 12 times in 32 ABs. The Rangers eventually sent him to AAA to start the season and he did not respond so well, hitting just .213 with 11 HRs. It was thought at the time that a concussion might have caused vision issues for the slugger; the resultant drop in his value made Olt expendable and he was shipped to the Cubs in the mid-season Matt Garza trade.
Once Olt arrived in Iowa his vision problems were attributed to a faulty lacrimal gland which did not allow his tear ducts to work properly, so the issue was addressed with eye drops. Despite the fix, he still struggled mightily in Iowa for the Cubs (.163 BA with just 3 HRS in 39 games).
In Spring Training of 2014, Olt played so well that he made the opening day roster and it was believed that he would split time with Luis Valbuena at 3rd base. Olt got a good amount of playing time early and was a true case of feast or famine; he only had 31 hits, but 12 were HRs. Olt was ultimately demoted at the end of July in 2014, but would return in September.
In the final month of 2014, Olt played in 17 games with a .263/.370/.368 line and 0 HRs. Not something that really screams “everyday player.” Overall for 2014, he finished with .160/.248/.356 with 12 HRs (which set a record for most HRs by a hitter with an average below .17o) and a K% of 38.8.
This spring, Olt came to camp confident and ready to compete for a job on the 2015 opening day roster. He promised that he truly had things figured out this time; while he came to camp in 2014 basically saying the same thing, this time he really meant it.
In an article from Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago, Olt said “The swing I had last year I was trying to hit a ball 500 feet. I don’t need to hit it 500 feet. I need to hit it 330-340. Understanding that was a big mental step for me.” This was after the first game of the spring in which Olt took Barry Zito deep for a 2-run HR.
In the same article, Olt talked about shortening up his swing with two strikes and trying to battle until he gets a pitch to handle. To his credit I do think Olt believes he has changed things and he feels like he has figured stuff out this offseason.
It isn’t that rare to see a player figure some things out after a rough year or two, so in my opinion there is still hope. Olt had a great many believers when he first started playing professional baseball and I don’t think the Rangers would have even traded him straight up for Matt Garza, let alone as part of a package, in 2012.
With that said though, time is running out and one way or another this guy named Kris Bryant will be on the big league team this season. That means Olt could possibly just be keeping a spot warm until the Cubs can navigate Bryant’s super-two status. Or he could grab the job this spring and play well enough that the Cubs consider moving either Bryant or Olt himself to another position (most likely LF).
I’m going to go with wishful thinking and say that Olt is not guilty of being a bust and that his adjustments will lead to big success this season. I think an average around .240 or .250 is doable, which would give him an OBP of around .330 or .340; throw in about 15-20 HRs and I think most people would call that a big improvement.
I for one think that Olt has a huge amount of talent and could be on the cusp of figuring out why he struggled so much last season. It makes the product on the field that much better, so I hope I am right and he figures things out for 2015.