Since the departure of Aramis Ramirez in 2012, the Chicago Cubs have had difficulties filling the third base position. Luis Valbuena has provided stability to the left side of the infield with above average defense, but he has never produced offensively the way Ramirez did for almost 10 seasons.
Chicago may have finally found their answer in Mike Olt. With Opening Day less than a week away, the 25-year old prospect learned that he made Chicago’s roster to start the season. Olt is certainly not the guaranteed starter and is going to battle it out with Valbuena throughout the season in order to secure a permanent position at third.
“Olt showed us a lot this spring,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “The way he swung the bat was really impressive. We like the work he’s done at third.”
“Making sure he can play third base, that was really the key once it was clear his bat was ready,” Hoyer said. “Over the past two weeks it was pretty clear if he was able to play third base we wanted the bat at Wrigley Field.”
The Cubs acquired Olt via trade last season in exchange for right hander Matt Garza. Prior to being traded to the Cubs, Olt was a rising prospect in the Texas Rangers organization. In 2012, the Cubs unsuccessfully tried to acquire Olt from the Rangers during his 28 home run campaign with the Rangers Double-A affiliate.
The Cubs were finally able to acquire Olt once his numbers at the plate began to slip. His poor offensive production was the result of vision problems he was having last season as a result of a concussion. During the offseason, Olt dealt with a shoulder injury at the beginning of spring training that kept him from playing any position besides first base. When he was finally healthy enough to compete for a 25 man roster spot, Olt was hitting .275 with five home runs and 12 RBI, which tied with Valbuena for the team lead.
“It’s really not even me getting hits,” said Olt, who had 28 home runs at Double-A Frisco in 2012. “It’s me being there and seeing the ball well. That’s my main goal in spring training. You want hits and want to perform, but the main goal in spring training is to get comfortable, and it’s a noticeable difference in how I feel right now. That’s what I’m happy about.”
It’s hard to say that Olt is the clear-cut winner to start at third base, mostly because Valbuena has had impressive spring training. Cubs manager Rick Renteria has not said yet whether Olt will be an everyday player, but it is expected that he will be given every opportunity to split time with Valbuena and will be the team’s best utility option going into the season.
Olt is just one of the many prospects the Cubs are looking forward to contributing this season. Top-rated prospect Javier Baez has been waiting for his opportunity to be called up to the majors. The 21-year old infielder had a stellar spring training where he hit .310 with five home runs and three doubles in 42 spring training at-bats. He will start the season playing for the Iowa Cubs, but it is expected that he will be called up sometime this season, either because he is continuing to dominate in the minors or because the Cubs remain so far out of contention the team wants to give him more major league exposure. Just this week, Cubs current shortstop Starlin Castro said that he would be willing to move to second base if it meant Baez was an everyday shortstop.
“If I need to move positions, I’m OK with that,” Castro told csnchicago.com. “If he is on our team and him being there helps the team win, then I am fine with that. I just want our team to win. That’s it.”
The Cubs also have 22-year old third baseman Kris Bryant to look forward to either by the end of this season or sometime in 2015. Bryant was the second overall pick by the Cubs in the 2013 draft and he agreed to a 6.7 million dollar signing bonus a couple days before the signing deadline. This past fall, Bryant dominated the Arizona Fall League where he was named MVP after hitting .364 with six home runs in 20 games.
Olt is the first significant Cubs prospect to come out of the Epstein era that has made the jump to the majors. The team fully expects to continue rolling out fresh talent within the next two seasons. When all of their key players have reached the majors, the Cubs will likely field one of the youngest rosters in the league and potentially the most dangerous.