On the slight downside, Chicago Cubs third base prospect Mike Olt is dealing with a sore shoulder that has prevented him from playing third base in the early going in Spring Training. On the upside, it hasn’t prevented Olt from hitting (which was always the big question with him coming into the year), and Rick Renteria says, per Mark Gonzalez, that Olt is actually throwing fine already. It sounds like there’s an abundance of caution being taken, and Olt is just going to be brought along slowly as he eases back into making the third base throws more regularly. Once he’s ready, Renteria says, Olt’s going to get as many looks as possible at third base.
In the last week, whether by virtue of a news cycle or whispers around camp, there has been a noticeable uptick in love for Olt as a possible huge piece for the Cubs. We have discussed the importance of Olt in the recent past, and the last week or so has brought a great deal of Olt-related pieces, including relative love from Gordon Wittenmyer and from Patrick Mooney, among others. Both are good reads so long as we always keep the proper perspective on Olt: his upside is huge, that of a cost-controlled, big power, good discipline, elite defensive third baseman; but reaching that upside is still probably a rough odds bet, given his eyesight issues last year and his contact issues in the minors even when he was still a top prospect. Getting Olt back to where he was in 2012 doesn’t mean he’s a top player in the big leagues; it means he’s a top prospect with a chance to be a good player in the big leagues.
Still, there’s a part of me that wonders if more media attention on Olt is something of a tea leaf. Are folks around the Cubs hearing good things about Olt? I think getting your hopes up would be a mistake. But, adding this all together with the early good signs about his eye issues being behind him, and there are reasons to believe there is a chance Olt could be a meaningful part of future Cubs success, even if he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training.
The thing that’s always been most compelling about the Olt storyline this year is that the Cubs aren’t counting on Olt to be a part of their future, near or long-term. He’s the best kind of lottery ticket: one with a huge possible payout, but one that won’t bankrupt you if you don’t hit. Olt emerging as a legit option at third base has a significant trickle-down effect on the Cubs’ options going forward*, but there are many other options in place that should provide the Cubs plenty of cover if Olt simply can’t put it all together.
*(And consider this: if Olt shows he can be a success at third in the big leagues, the Cubs could suddenly have four premium big-league ready (or near big-league ready) third base prospects (Olt, Bryant, Baez, and Villanueva). At a serious position of need around baseball, that’d be a hell of a good scenario as the Cubs consider trade options to, for example, build up the rotation.)