Mike Olt is headed back to Triple-A Iowa after what I'm sure felt like a long season for him with the big league team this year.
There have been some successes, of course -- namely, 12 of them, each in the form of a literal home run. But that's pretty much it on the plus side. Olt is hitting .139 as of this morning. He has struck out in nearly 40 percent of his at-bats, most of any player with at least 200 plate appearances.
His BABIP is .147, which I bring up not as an indicator of bad luck, but of bad hitting. To get on base when you put the ball in play, the ball needs to be driven; that Olt's BABIP is so drastically low to me is an indication that he has not been able to hit line drives, basically at all. It's either a ground ball, a soft fly, or a golf shot that goes all the way. (If you believe in such things as batted-ball types, Olt has an 11.2 line-drive percent -- again, lowest in MLB.)
So Olt heads to Iowa. I'm actually fairly sure he'll benefit from the experience. He needs to get his head right, and he needs regular at-bats to get back into a hitting groove.
Before we get into how this affects Iowa's daily operations, I have one more question: should Junior Lake be headed there as well?
Olt and Lake are both suffering from strikeout problems; where Olt has the most K's (min 200 PA), Lake is fourth on the list. But how the two have racked up their strikeouts differs significantly.
Olt has some swing-and-miss issues, there's no doubt. But lots of hitters have swung and missed more often than he has (and when I say lots I mean dozens). One of those hitters that swings and misses more often is Junior Lake -- and, in fact, Lake leads the majors in swings-and-misses as a percentage of all pitches seen.
But while Olt has struggled to drive the pitches he can hit with authority, Lake has shown to be a bit better at that skill. Lake's line-drive percentage is ever so slightly higher this year, and his BABIP is significantly higher, close to .300. If Lake can just get the bat on the ball more often, there are reasons to believe his line will improve. Olt needs even more than that to happen to see success going forward.
On May 25, Lake was hitting .273 with a .482 slugging percentage. That's good stuff, strikeouts and walks notwithstanding. But since then Lake is hitting just .157, and with very limited power. In both stretches, however, Lake's strikeout problems have been nearly identical -- he K's about a third of the time.
In contrast, Olt had 38 K in his first 122 PA (~31%), but then struck out 43 times in his next 86 PA's -- literally half the time. So his strikeout problem is obviously worsening. To answer my question from earlier, I think I see why the Cubs think Olt should go to Iowa, while Lake may be able to figure it out at the MLB level -- Lake is potentially just dealing with some bad luck, while Olt is falling off a cliff.
Of course, perhaps Lake gets sent to Iowa later today and all this is moot. We'll see. But so now let's finish out by taking a look at who is currently getting playing time in Iowa, and who might get less of it now that both Olt and Jorge Soler (YAY) are headed in that direction.
Last night's outfield was Brett Jackson in left, Matt Szczur in center, and Ryan Kalish in right. Josh Vitters played first. Earlier this week, we saw Vitters in left and Lars Anderson at first. So, how is each of those dudes doing? Have they earned additional playing time based on their performances both this year and in years past? (Never mind Logan Watkins and his .348 OBP, who was already unlikely to play much even before Olt and Soler arrived.)
The lightest-hitting man of the bunch is Szczur, but he also has the best excuse for his limited output. He just turned 25 a couple days ago, and this is his first full season in Triple-A. He had a nice year at Double-A last year, getting on base at a .350 clip and striking out just 13% of the time. He's also a legit possibility in center field. He'll keep playing.
Remember Brett Jackson? It all pretty much fell apart for him last year; the 24-year-old struggled in Double-A, then in Triple-A. He's back in Iowa again this year, and his year-to-date line looks awful: .215/.301/.382 is simply not gonna get it done. But with Jackson there are absolutely signs of life. Over a five-game stretch at the start of June, Brett struck out 8 times in 14 PAs; but since then, he's gone 19-for-76 with 7 extra base hits, and 13 walks. No, still not great numbers, but evidence that the former first rounder is improving his game. I think he continues to get play even after Soler arrives.
That leaves Ryan Kalish, who unfortunately has shown little evidence of being able to recover from injuries suffered in earlier seasons. Given his background he's the kind of guy that you'd love to give a chance to, just to see if he can get things going again at some point. But the Cubs didn't promote Soler to sit on the bench, so it's probably Kalish that pays for it in terms of playing time. Expect a Jackson-Sczcur-Soler outfield for Iowa most days, with Kalish giving each guy a breather every once in a while.
You'd best believe Kris Bryant has third base locked up, so if Olt's going to play every day it'll be at first base. But now we're really running out of places to play Lars Anderson, who was a pretty "meh" guy before all this went down, and Josh Vitters, whose baseball story may soon be completely over. Hitting just .202 so far this season and without any real defensive capability, I don't see how the team can afford to continue giving him playing time.
You could see lots of guys get lots of rest over the next couple months in Iowa, but I think it's more likely that Ryan Kalish and Josh Vitters have seen the last of their significant playing time within the Chicago Cubs organization.
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