Dedication to defense paying off for Olt

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Supplemental first-round pick Mike Olt has an intriguing tool package that includes raw power and an above-average glove at the hot corner. Lone Star Dugout sat down with the 22-year-old to discuss his first summer in pro ball.

Mike Olt hasn't been in professional baseball for long, but he has already arguably become the Texas Rangers' top third base prospect.

The Rangers selected the University of Connecticut product in the supplemental round––with the 49th overall selection––of the 2010 MLB Draft. He was eventually signed for a reported $717,300 bonus.

Olt reported to short-season Spokane after signing and made his professional debut on July 21, three games into the Northwest League season. He got out to a relatively slow start, going 8-for-33 (.242) in 10 June games.

Then he began to take off. Olt posted a strong .300/.399/.474 slash line in his final 59 games of the regular season. Overall, the Connecticut native finished his first pro summer by hitting .297 with 16 doubles, nine homers, and 43 RBI.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound prospect has plenty of strength and excellent raw power. He puts on an impressive display of pop in batting practice, routinely hitting balls out of the park to all fields.

While Olt's 12.9% walk rate was more than solid, he struck out in nearly 25 percent of his plate appearances. The righty had little trouble hitting for a high average in the Northwest League, but he'll need to cut down on the strikeouts as he refines his swing mechanics and moves up the organizational ladder.

In addition to his promising offensive tools, the 22-year-old is also an above-average defensive player at the hot corner, flashing good range and a strong arm. As Olt explains in the following interview, he became more committed to his defensive game after he committed 21 errors with an .873 fielding percentage as a sophomore at UConn.

Olt's defensive progress and abilities were recently highlighted when he was named the Texas Rangers' Minor League Defender of the Month for August.

Lone Star Dugout was able to interview Olt after Tuesday's intrasquad game at Fall Instructional League. Olt batted cleanup for the home team and was 1-for-3 with a double and a base on balls.

Jason Cole: Tell me what you were able to take away from your first summer in pro ball. What were your thoughts?

Mike Olt: My first summer was definitely a learning experience for me. And I think––with Spokane and the coaching staff at Spokane––they did a great job of leading me in the right direction with my swing.

They helped me have a better approach when it comes to the game––thinking outside the box and just really refining the mental game. That was a big stepping stone for me and I had a fun time with it.

Cole: How did the season meet your expectations as you entered pro ball?

Olt: It definitely met my expectations. We had such a great set-up with Spokane and it actually exceeded my expectations. Any time you're able to get into a crowd with 5,000 people cheering for you every night, it's a great experience. I think that helped.

And the team atmosphere was just like college ball. I had heard some things about how once you get to pro ball it's kind of all about yourself. But I think Spokane and all the teams that I've heard from with the Texas organization is more team oriented. That's a great thing to be part of.

Cole: Did you make any adjustments or changes to your swing while you were out there in Spokane?

Olt: Yeah, I made a couple adjustments with my swing––just kind of stance-wise. I widened out my stance. With the metal bat, you can get away with a lot of things because it's almost like you're cheating.

You can get jammed and still pop one over the fence here and there. So you have to have a much more sound swing. That was one of the things that Josue (Perez), Tim (Hulett) and Bama (Brian Dayett) tried helping me with. I think widening my stance and just shortening up a little bit was a big thing.

Cole: Did you have some broken bats early on before you made the adjustment or were you just not getting the results you wanted?

Olt: I wasn't breaking that many bats, but my hands definitely felt that I was getting jammed a lot. I wasn't seeing the ball as well. The little minor adjustments really helped to kind of eliminate that. Then I started to get on a roll in the middle of the season.

Cole: It seemed that you got stronger as you went on this season. Is it safe to say the adjustment is what led to that success?

Olt: Yeah. I think the first half was just kind of trying to get back into the swing of things with the wood bat. You don't want to make excuses, but it's always tough to come back from using the metal bat for a whole year. It doesn't take long to get that taken care of. Once the kinks are out, you're just ready to hit and ready to roll.

Cole: You were named the Texas Rangers' minor league Defensive Player of the Month for August. What do you take away from that? What does it mean to you?

Olt: It means a lot. I've definitely concentrated more on my defense since my college days. My sophomore year, I struggled defensively. I'd never really taken pride in going out there and getting extra ground balls. I just concentrated on the swing and trying to get that all taken care of.

You don't really think about it when you get into a funk––what you have to do defensively to find that routine again. We did a lot of work and I put a lot of time into it to try and improve that part of my game. I've seen some big things coming from it.

Cole: What are some of the things you've been working on defensively both here and in Spokane?

Olt: With college, we're taught to get as many balls as we can––to try and avoid the backhand. And with some of these runners, one of the things you have to work on is just being quick with that backhand and trusting it. I definitely made it a point of emphasis to work on my backhand day-in and day-out.

And I just wanted to be a little more smooth with my releases. I had that shortstop mentality of being quick, but I had to be more smooth and slow everything down.

Cole: As a third baseman, is there much of a difference with the way the ball comes off the bat of a wood bat in comparison to metal?

Olt: I like it better coming off the wood bat. You definitely get your fair share of hot shots, but it's a different feel coming from a wood bat. A metal bat––it's almost like the first instinct is to just freeze. With a wood bat, you can kind of see that trajectory off the bat real quick. It definitely helps.

Cole: What are you looking to get out of your month-plus here at instructs?

Olt: I'm looking to get a lot out of it. There are always things that I have to improve upon. The coaching staff here has been real great. They're willing to help anyone that needs it. I'm just going to kind of soak everything in and whatever they say is what I'll bring into the offseason and continue to work on.

Cole: Coming into it, is there anything that you know you want to work on right now?

Olt: I think offensively, I just want to get more comfortable in the box. I just want to get it with repetition. I definitely saw my fair share of offspeed in college, but with sharper breaking balls and more control with the changeup here, I just want to get more comfortable in the box and see the ball a little bit better. That's probably my main focus right now.

Cole: You played deep into the college season at UConn and deep into the Northwest League season at Spokane. And now you're out here. Are you feeling fatigued at all?

Olt: Surprisingly not. All you have to do is think about the fact that this is my job. This is the job I love. Basically, coming out here is no big deal at all. It doesn't wear me down. I'm just enjoying it.

For more information on Olt and the 2010 Fall Instructional League, check out this thread on our subscriber-only message board.

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