It's time to give Mike Olt his shot at playing full-time

It's time to give Mike Olt his shot at playing full-time

The Cubs 12-21 start puts them in a position now where they are very unlikely to compete this season, so it's time to invest in the young talent and it starts with Mike Olt.

I've been more patient than most about Olt and his playing time.  The kid has tremendous power and solid skills at 3B but I was okay with not throwing him into the fire after a rough finish to his AAA season.  His playing time was sporadic in spring training, though he did make the most of it.  He was still recovering from shoulder and eye issues.  And for April, you have to play the guys who give you the best shot to win.

So when the Cubs broke Olt in slowly and tried to match him up, that was fine by me.  When he struggled, I didn't buy the rationale that he should play everyday so the Cubs "can see what they have."  I believe they had a pretty good idea what they had -- and that was a talented ballplayer who was not quite ready for the majors, so they didn't want to throw too much at him.  And it showed.  Olt struggled with things he never struggled with in the minors -- his approach and his defense.  He didn't hit for much power and he was striking out at an alarming rate -- 35% of his PAs through April.

Olt has now homered in his past two games and so the calls for him to play have become louder.  This time I agree.

It's not so much because of the two HRs, but since the calendar turned to May, I've noticed that the quality of his ABs have gotten better, he has made more contact, and his defense has become more consistent.  It's just a small sample size but I like the way Olt is adjusting and the way his approach has improved of late.

I think he's ready to get his shot to play everyday and as long as he can maintain the good ABs and the acceptable contact rate (5 Ks in 19 PAs in May), he should stay there for the rest of the season.

As the weather warms and more baseballs begin leaving Wrigley, Olt's power is going to become more and more of an asset to the team, and with him seeing the ball better of late and working counts,  you hope he continues to give good ABs and supplement what we expect to be a low batting average with walks.

Now this doesn't mean I think the Cubs should bench Luis Valbuena.  He moves to 2B with an occasional start at 3B vs. RHP and Emilio Bonifacio plays CF vs. RHP and 2B vs. LHP.  Darwin Barney moves to a utility role.

Valbuena and Bonifacio are solid role players for the present and they should still play because they've earned it. but I also think they are the kinds of players you can move to accommodate an opportunity for a player like Olt, who mayyet be potential piece of the puzzle.


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  • I completely agree. Barneys time as a starter is over. It also looks like Olt's shoulder is fine too.

  • In reply to Drew Edstrom:

    I was fine with starting the season the way they did, but I think the focus has to shift now.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    How can you say that Olt "didn't hit for much power"? He had hit 4 home runs in 43 plate appearances going into the last week of April. He was hitting a home run in 9.8% of at bats. That was a better margin than Pujols who at the time was tops in home runs in the league. I understand that there is more to power numbers than just jacking HR's, and that is a small sample size, but still I would have thought that was reason to expand his playing time a bit. Anyway I agree with your point that he should get more time now, and Valbuenna should play more 2nd.

  • In reply to Adam Rocholl:

    It wasn't consistent. He was all or nothiing, wasn't making consistent hard contact -- or any consistent contact for that matter. Swinging hard and jolting a mistake every so often isn't an approach that's sustainable and it is not enough to trust someone in the lineup on a day to day basis.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Agree 100% John. It's time to start transitioning a little more. His recent ABs have been much better.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Ummm... I think he already said that, so why are you repeating it?

  • In reply to Daddy:

    You actually have to write "Ummm"? It's okay if you process slowly, need to stall for time and verbalize it internally, but to actually write it? You are on a blog, time fillers like "ummm" are unnecessary since we can't actually see you struggling to come up with a thought. The kicker is that after needing that extra time, this response is all that you could come up with?

    Maybe you should have processed longer -- maybe a few extra "m's' next time (but remember, you don't need to actually type it!)

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, you seem like an intelligent guy, with some good thoughts, great blog. But at times you take on a Dan Bernstein persona and go a little overboard with the way you treat people. Might be a good time to take a deep breathe and reread the comments policy.
    Just a suggestion.

  • In reply to xhooper:

    I know who that guy is and he's been trolling this blog under different screen names for a while now. I ignore it, spam it, but sometimes I like to have fun with it.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It looks to me like we have someone here that is jealous of your popularity with this blog. That was a middle-school type comment at best. Someone needs to grow up.

  • "Luis Valbuena moves to 2B with an occasional start at 3B vs. RHP and Emilio Bonifacio plays CF vs. RHP and 2B vs. LHP. Darwin Barney moves to a utility role."

    That really is the best team they can field offensively at the moment, and although Barney's defense remains superior, Valbuena/Bonifacio is not some huge drop-off relative to Barney.

    Now - if they can only figure out a way to consistently get and keep Lake and Kalish in the lineup once Ruggiano and Sweeney are healthy again - that'll be a sign they are focusing on the potential guys now, and not just on trying to salvage a few meaningless wins for the season.

    I like 'wins' as much as the next guy - but what I have wanted the club to focus on is development and assessment of the youngsters. For that reason - I also advocate giving Vitters a fair OF look somepoint this season.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    I am more skeptical still about Lake -- I don't think he's made the same adjustments that Olt has. He's hitting better, but his approach is still awful. Kalish should play more.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Absolutely agreed about Lake John - just that IF the goal is to find out if Lake can make adjstments, and is worth keeping (at least until Almora or somebody else better at CF can displace him), they have to get him enough regular PT, keep the coaching staff working on him so he isn't quite so erratic.

    I like Sweeney, but he's probably a 4th or 5th OF on most teams, and Ruggiano is probably destined for a career of being 'the platoon guy' and at age 30+ isn't a long-term solution anyway.

    Let the kids play.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The most annoying about Lake is his hacking at sliders starting on the outside corner. Even if these pitches were fastballs, his bat would not even reach the ball.

    One glimmer from last night was that Lake made an adjustment during an atbat. Carroll was having some success against righties by running fastballs in and down below the hands. Lake struck out on this pitch in his first atbat. Second time up, he swung and missed early in the count on the same pitch. Carroll tried it again and Lake took the pitch for the walk. I think he laid off the same pitch before the single but I may be wrong.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I don't know. Yes I agree Lakes approach needs a lot of work but I think his ceiling is much higher than Kalish if he works his way out of it. I 'm basing this on last years exciting but flawed start. I'd like to see him get a straight month or 2 of play time just like I would Olt and see what happens. I think they are both pressing for play time and trying to do too much and that is affecting their at bats.

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    I agree John. The way I see it is this. You've got 3 guys for 2 spot. Olt Valbuena and Barney. All of them are above average defensively so that's a wash. What's left is what they can do with the bat.

    Valbuena is assured a spot because he's been the best of the 3 offensively. Even with Olt scuffling he's still been a million times better than Barney. He walks and provides power at the least. Barney is good for popping up to short LF ie. The Ryan Theriot plague.

    This team is better with Olt at 3rd and Valbuena at 2nd than the latter at 3rd and Barney at 2nd. Olt struggling or not. Him actually getting hot just solidifies it.

  • I'm cool with this. Olt certainly has 20+ HR power. Not sure he'll ever hit higher than .250, but he doesn't really have to if the rest of his game comes around. I'm a little concerned about his defense (I haven't seen even a hint of that gold glove caliber stuff we were told about), but he has the athleticism and arm strength needed so maybe it is just his lack of spring reps there and he will round into form soon, but if they want to put Barney in at second and slide Valbuena over to third as a late innings defensive replacement I'd be fine with that too.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    He's not a Gold Glove caliber defender, but he is above average there in terms of hands, range, and arm strength,

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Who is a gold glove caliber 3B in the NL right now though? That position is pretty barren and, if Olt can ever consistently hit .260 with 25-30 HRs, he'll win a number of gold gloves along the way.

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    In reply to JB88:

    Nolan Arenado is possibly the best defensive third baseman in baseball. He's going to be tough to beat.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Good call---both on Arenado generally and the likelihood that many will beat him out for GG.

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    In reply to JB88:

    Yeah, one of the benefits of compiling stuff for the Saturday column is I see lots of Arenado, Machado, and Simmons highlights. Almost worth it for that alone.

  • In reply to JB88:

    Well, if he does win a GG it will be based on the competition, not to mention extraneous things like offensive production -- but when we say GG caliber, we don't mean it literally. It's just a way of saying a Grade 7 or above defender.

  • In reply to JB88:

    Arenado is definitely a Gold Glove caliber 3rd baseman. David Wright is up there too

  • i think that this makes the most sense. barney is a utility guy and its time that he finds a new home wether it be on our bench or someone elses. valbuena should bring a very solid amount of value to second base and can still move to third in the later innings if really tough bullpen lefties come in the game.

    its time to give this kid his chance

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    That's the plan I would go with.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    That's the plan I would go with.

  • Great article and I agree 100%. I can't wait to see how Olt's power will play at Wrigley when the weather starts to warm up. I think playing everyday will improve his confidence and calm him down considerably, which will hopefully help out his defensive play as well.

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    I think this is the right thing to do for the future but, ironically, if Olt starts to play better this team could start winning now as a consequence. Even ignoring Bonifacio for a moment (who has had a rough go of it since the red hot start), Olt playing better would give you a 2-6 of Valbuena-Rizzo-Castro-Olt-Castillo. Certainly not great (other than Rizzo, it lacks a real all-around offensive threat) but good enough to string together some rallies and put runs on the board.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    If either Baez or Bryant comes up this year, too, then the lineup suddenly looks very powerful.

    What I think is still missing is a couple table setters. You love Rizzo's OBP, but right now, outside of Valbuena, you aren't getting a ton more from the rest of the lineup. That, to me, is the biggest concern I have with some of the prospects we have. Baez isn't going to be an OB machine and Bryant has some swing and miss to his game. We might hit 225 HRs in a season, but also strike out 1500 times as well.

  • This is a year for Olt to get his baseball game back. Even if he just
    hits .250 and make 20 errors his power should just get better.
    Nice young player to add to the mix

  • This season was always likely to be about assessment and development, but the poor start has moved that agenda front and center. Another interesting piece John. The start also eases the rush of prospects such as Kris Bryant.

  • Now that Bryant is clicking it's going to be interesting to see what the Brass will do with him. It's clear he's ready to move up and see better competition. Then we have the Baez and Alacantra problem to deal with by mid season. If they both get hot there will be a worse logjam at 3rd and 2nd unless they move at least 2 starters by July. They might as well start Bryant in the outfield at AAA if they want to bring him up when the roster expands to get a look at him.

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    "Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Barney will not be playing tonight. His time is up, and I have taken it over. You were to hear a report on the Cubs' crisis. That is what you are going to hear. For weeks now, you've been asking yourself, 'Who is Mike Olt?' This is Mike Olt speaking. I am the man who loves baseball. I am the man who gladly hits a sacrifice fly ball with a runner on third and less than two outs. I am the man who deprives opposing hitters of doubles down the third base line and thus destroys their world, and if you wish to know why you Cubs' fans are perishing - you who dread sabremetric knowledge - I will tell you now...........IT'S BECAUSE I'M NOT PLAYING ENOUGH AND DARWIN BARNEY IS PLAYING TO MUCH." ~ Mike "John Galt" Olt

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    I agree completely with playing Olt, and I also think we must see if he can establish himself as a ML regular, because that will have alot of implications for Baez and Bryant. If Olt can hold down 3B, that will allow a move of Bryant to RF, where we have a gaping hole. It will just help our organization alot.

    In order to add value as a ML regular, the bar is not super high for Olt. He's got power, and can field 3B, so the pressure to make contact is not as high as it would be at other positions. If Olt strikes out a ton, but adds power and bats .230, that's enough. He would basically be Mark Reynolds with much better fielding.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    As long as he doesn't become Dave Kingman again.

  • In reply to SouthBender:

    Kingman struck out 24% of his PAs (27% of his ABs) over the course of his career. Many hitters have had a lot of success (including Hall of Fame success) with higher K rates than Kingman's. I could live with Olt having a 25% K rate if he hits with power and has a decent OBP, which is what I think we've got with Olt already once he settles down a bit, and I think he's going to get a lot better.

  • In reply to SouthBender:

    If Mike Olt could match the overall offensive numbers when Dave Kingman was a Cub, and play a decent 3rd base, we would all take that right now.

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    This FO approaches each season in two month increments. I agree- we're ready for phase two of the season. That includes playing Olt. I see Bryant getting promoted at the end of May to iowa a long with other roster moves in accordance.

    I also think playing Barney and Schierholtz so they can increase trade value has a hidden cost-attendance. People don't want to pay to see more of them. Gotta move them out of the way.

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    Some things have to break right for us, but imagine this lineup in 2016 if you will:

    CF Almora
    SS Castro
    1B Rizzo
    RF Bryant
    LF Soler
    2B Baez
    3B Olt
    C Castillo

    That is some really serious power! There are alot of what-ifs here, but it's not a big stretch on this lineup either

  • In reply to Zonk:

    IDK Zonk. One lefty?

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I like the power but I'd like to see Alacantras switch hitting bat in the lineup. I just don't know where with Baez playing second. Looks like a trade of at least one of the prospects for a left handed bat might be in order. The question is who? Unfortunately we can't play them all. The way Castro is playing now I wouldn't want to trade him either. I would like Almora batting second.

  • There will certainly still be some hiccups along the way with Olt but the hope is that his power is legitimate and he can become a 30 HR guy. His play last night charging in, scooping a groundball on a short hop and throwing off balance was nicely played.

    Can he hit. That is the only question we have on him. He has power. He has plate discipline and he is a solid defender. He just can't hit .180.

    Alcantara is coming quickly. Bruno behind him. Bryant after him. Baez is likely (please soon) to get things figured out and could be here soon. Guys need to start performing to earn their spots or they will be gone (Barney, Lake and Kalish for starters).

  • At the beginning of the year I thought Olt would spend half a year at AAA to get the rust off and get his confidence back but he made the team out of ST. I still think he needs half a year to get the rust off and get his confidence back. It seems like he is doing just that. I think starting July he will be back in his groove and we will be very pleased with what we have.

  • Until the last two games Olt looked awrful, but pining Barney is the correct move, so Olt should play his way off the hot corner and Valbuena looks okay at second. With Rizzo showing up in the 2 hole that questyion is moot for now. I love Lake's talent, but agree he needs coaching.. I think the pitching staff is the number one concern. It isn't ready to contend.

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    It's great to be back after a short hospital stay. I was able to catch the last 4 games and totally agree with giving Olt his chance. Also, is it just me or does Castillo look like an All-Star behind the plate?

    The guy is blocking pitches like a champ, framing the ball so much better and throwing like Johnny Bench back there. Those two pick offs at first had me cheering!

  • I agree John. Barney is now a utility player. I said quite some time ago that we should wait until May 31st to have a fair idea who will stick and who won't. I'll stick with that date for Rizzo and Castro although it certainly appears as if they've recovered from last year.
    Unfortunately, it appears as if Vogelbach is fading. I'd hoped for better from him. But I would expect Bryant would be up in another month, but if Olt makes it it looks as if Bryant will play in the outfield.

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    I think he's slowly getting back to playing quality ball.

    For the past month, I think he's been really pressing, but not just because of the playing time issue.

    I figure there has to be A LOT of nerves associated with this season.

    I'm sure plenty of guys are nervous their rookie season, but Olt has to deal with being a rookie directly following the absolute thermonuclear meltdown that was 2013.
    That was so many times worse than just a 'bad season' or 'struggling' like players occasionally have.

    The guy has to reestablish confidence in himself and do so in his first (full) MLB season.

    I liked his interview after the game. Even after a grand slam he seemed pretty preoccupied with getting better and his comments about not making stupid swings is, if nothing else, a good indicator that he needs to get back the good approach he had in the minors.

    I like Ramirez and Grimm too but in a couple years I think Olt will make the Garza trade look like quite a coup.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    And you didn't mention CJ!

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    In reply to SFToby:

    lol. As soon as I sent that, I thought to myself, "I'm sure they know CJ goes without saying."

    That and I was focusing in the guys that are already at the MLB level.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    The approach he had "in the minors" was at AA. It's important to keep in mind that he was essentially promoted directly from AA, since his limited AAA experience was nullified by his vision issues.

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    In reply to TheThinBlueLine:

    Approach is approach. I'm not saying he will put up equal stats, but there's no reason to think a patient hitter willing to take a walk will suddenly become a shameless hacker.

  • Olt's comments after the game yesterday were quite revealing. He mentioned that his approach was a bit off, he typically is a slow starter, and the warm weather should help him. And Sutcliffe's observations the day before about Olt are also interesting about how Texas had three prospects that were untouchable in 2012- Profar, Andrus, and Olt. The Cubs might have landed the best one of those.

    Before he was hit in the face, Olt had put up several 390 OBP seasons. And that grand slam off right handed Cleto was awesome- he took a high tight fastball under the chin, worked the count, and took a nice easy swing. Boom.

    Olt deserves the same shot to play every day that Rizzo had.

  • Off topic, but is anyone else much more excited about the MLB draft than the NFL draft going on THIS WEEKEND?

    Sorry, I just had some coffee, and I love baseball.

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    In reply to CGunz:

    Hell no. I'm terrified about this MLB draft.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    Agree, a pitcher is too risky to take with the 4th pick

  • In reply to CGunz:

    I can't get excited for the MLB draft.

    It takes several years to know if it's a good pick or not.

    We listen to information and analysis from guys who are wrong all of the time.

    The hilarious part is that some fans never seen these guys play but they prefer one guy over another so much. Guys are praying that Aiken falls to us yet they never seen him play. He's good to them because they like the scouting report written by some guy who has been wrong thousands of times. I could understand wanting a pitcher or hitter and some guys are clearly better than others but it's splitting hairs and a huge shoulder shrug.

    And no matter who your team takes you talk yourself into it and believe he's a great pick.

    Every top 10 pick has a ceiling of some all-star or hall of famer that 95% of them fail to reach. Yet the same process happens year after year and we trick ourselves into thinking our guy is going to be that good. Brady Aiken has been compared to Clayton Kershaw. Can't wait to see how that turns out. Who was Vitters compared to when he came out?

    Couple of my buddies were upset that the Bears took Fuller last night. I asked why, have you seen him play? No.

    Oh ok that makes perfect sense. But since Kiper didn't have him high on his big board he must suck. Mel Kiper the same guy who had Jimmy Clausen having a hall of fame career, the next "John Elway" yeah ok...

  • In reply to Cracker Barrel:

    If you don't care about the draft or the minors, then read another blog. No one is stopping you, yet you keep coming back under new names, Jonathan.

  • In reply to Cracker Barrel:

    "The hilarious part is that some fans never seen these guys play but they prefer one guy over another so much. Guys are praying that Aiken falls to us yet they never seen him play. He's good to them because they like the scouting report written by some guy who has been wrong thousands of times."

    My, how profound. People get it wrong all the time. They also get it right - a lot. According to you, a fan has to have seen a player in action before they should be getting excited about him. That's what's "hilarious". LOL!

  • In reply to cubs1969:

    I think that a knowledgeable fan reading and comparing the experts(including John and others on this site) with sabermetrics and the internet(including YouTube) can have a worthy opinion on the draft.

  • John, did you read Mooney's article on the draft today? It doesn't sound like they're big fans of Beede or Nola, which we basically knew with Nola. The more and more I think about it, the more it's starting to look like Gordon is their guy. Unless Rodon falls *crosses fingers

  • In reply to Javier Bryant:

    I didn't read it yet, but I did write Beede's stock is down with the Cubs and I've heard it from more than one source. I haven't ruled it out but I'm not betting on it.

  • Is Bryant's only chance of playing in the big leagues THIS YEAR as a September call up? Is any sooner a realistic possibility?

    Bryant is 'pert near a man among boys in AA. He's 1st in OPB (.1.067), 1st in SLG, 3rd in OBp, 1st in HRs, 3rd in AVG (.328), 4th in RBI (24). Yes, he's 2nd in SOs (39), but should we be that concerned about SOs in light of that average?

    I gotta think he's gonna be at AAA by early June. And if he performs similarly there for a month, any chance he can be in the bigs in July?

  • In reply to TTP:

    I would think if everything goes great, he will be up in Sept. July is less than 2 months away.

  • In reply to John57:

    He is a much older/more experienced player than the rest of the Core Four though. Three years in college has to mean something right? I understand and fully agree with this concept of allowing guys time in the minors, but it's harder for me to comprehend with this particular player because of his age and experience.

  • I'm one who thought and still thinks Olt should've been starting from Opening Day. The man has 1 fewer HR, and 2 fewer RBI than Anthony Rizzo does and he did it with 60 fewer plate appearances. This on a team that has a harder time scoring runs than Jamie Lannister does keeping Kings of Westeros alive mind you. But, at least now we're in agreement John!

  • Mike Olt!!!!!!!! another bomb .

  • Check that, the man has the same amount of HR's and 1 fewer RBI in 60 fewer PA's than AR.

  • In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    And he is only 5 HRs behind Abreu in ~70 fewer ABs.

  • I think Olt is looking at a career like Dave Kingman and if he can increase his walk totals maybe more like Adam Dunn. Either way a valuable asset going forward. Then again maybe not, I guess we will know more in a couple of months.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    No one can predict accurately what he is going to do. Just sit back, watch and enjoy.

  • John, great article and timely as usual. Until the 9th inning, they had 1 hit the whole game...yet only trailed by a run thanks to Mike Olt.

    I think what frustrates a lot of Cubs fans is in a year like they're going to have this year, why continue to play guys who are not performing, are not going to suddenly establish trade value and are in the last year of their tenure with the team (Schierholtz, Barney, et. al.) while young guys like Olt are sitting on the bench. If the young kids aren't going to play, let them play in the minors.

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