Although third baseman Mike Olt has only 69 games of professional experience, the Texas Rangers haven't been shy about giving him a taste of big league camp.
Thanks in part to a mid-spring injury to utility man Brian Barden, Olt has appeared in seven ‘A' games for the Rangers this month. The prospect is fitting in just fine, going 4-for-10 with a double, a home run, and two runs batted in. His homer was a ninth-inning game-tying shot against the Cincinnati Reds.
The 22-year-old has begun to cement himself as one of the organization's top position-player prospects. After being selected in the supplemental first round (49th overall pick) of last year's MLB Draft, Olt batted an impressive .293/.390/.464 with the short-season Spokane Indians.
Olt offers a good package of natural skills, including bat speed, strength, athleticism, and a plus arm. He has three tools (raw power, glove, arm) that project as at least 60-grade (plus) in the future.
Strikeouts were Olt's biggest issue during his debut campaign last summer. While the UConn product drew 40 walks (a solid 12.9 percent rate), he whiffed in 77 of his 310 plate appearances––a 24.8 percent rate.
As Olt explains below, he believes eliminating some of the pre-swing movement from his mechanics will help him stay shorter to the ball and cut down on the strikeouts. With a good feel for the strike zone and excellent bat speed, Olt could develop a plus hit tool if he's able to refine his swing as he matures.
With minor league games well underway, Olt is now looking forward to his first full season in the Texas organization. The third baseman says nothing is set in stone, but one has to figure that he will open the 2011 regular season as the everyday third baseman at High-A Myrtle Beach.
Jason Cole: Even though you're in your first spring training, you've gotten some action in big league games. Did the Rangers tell you anything going into that? And what were your thoughts on it?
Mike Olt: It has been a great experience. The Rangers told me that I was going to have an opportunity to play in some of those games. I was excited for that. I think someone got hurt––or someone was banged up––and I was able to fill in for them while they got better. It was just good to see those guys and see how they act. To be a first-year guy and get an experience like that has been great.
Cole: What was it like the first time you were on the field in a game out there?
Olt: I told myself I wasn't going to get nervous and that it's just like any other game. But when you're up there with the big league guys, I got a little nervous at first. But once I stepped on the field, it was just back to playing baseball.
Cole: You got a game-tying home run in a big league game earlier in camp. Can you tell me about that?
Olt: Yeah. It was a 2-0 count and he was throwing pretty firm, so I was just looking to get on top of something. He threw it middle-away and I was able to go with it and drive it.
Cole: I'm assuming that kind of helps you feel like you fit in a little bit.
Olt: Yeah, definitely. It's good to do something productive and try to help the team out, especially with those guys out there.
Cole: And you had an error right before that.
Olt: I did.
Cole: Obviously it wasn't exactly a high-pressure situation, but was it difficult to put that out of your head and behind you?
Olt: Yeah, that was a tough error. It went right through my legs. I needed to tune that out––I couldn't let it get the best of me. But I think that's one of the big things I've worked on––just forgetting about that. Once I get another opportunity––whether it be the next ground ball or next at-bat––I just want to try and do something better.
Cole: In watching you take ground balls, it seems that you have the actions of a shortstop. How does your experience at short affect you at third base?
Olt: At third base, it's all reaction. So basically in working on ground balls before the game or during BP, I'm just trying to work on getting that good hop like I did at shortstop. Even though I had much more time, I still try to work on getting that good hop, setting my feet, and being smooth.
Cole: Was last season at UConn your first at third base?
Olt: It was my first full year. I played half the year during my sophomore year at third. And then that full summer at third. That was my first full.
Cole: Is it to the point where third base feels like your natural position?
Olt: Yeah, I love it at third. I think it was an easy transition. I've played second base some. Moving from shortstop to second––I thought that was a really hard transition. And then moving from third was more reaction and more about the feel of the game and feeling it out. I did well there.
Cole: Obviously you're a good defender at third base, but what are you looking to improve upon when you take ground balls out here?
Olt: I'm focusing on being more consistent with my throws. It's a long season, so I'm trying to save my arm and work on getting my legs involved me. I want to make those throws with less arm action and more of my lower half. It should take some of the stress off my arm.
Cole: What did you do over the offseason to prepare for the 140-game grind of a full year?
Olt: I was lucky enough––in Connecticut, you can't do much baseball-wise. I was lucky enough to be able to go to UConn and practice with those guys and throw in our facility. I was able to get my arm loose and run. Our coaches stayed after practice to help me out hitting-wise. I got really lucky. I worked out with Pierre LePage, who got drafted. He was a second baseman for us. It was good to have a buddy there to work every day with. It was good.
Cole: Offensively, what are you focusing on right now? What would you like to improve before the season starts?
Olt: There has been some things offensively with my load and trying to stay square and balanced. I think we figured out my load––I'm not as violent with my load anymore. I'm more balanced. That is helping me stay balanced, and I think it's going to help my hitting throughout the season.
Cole: I may not be seeing it right, but from eyeballing it, it seems like your bat speed may have improved since even last year. Do you feel like that's the case at all?
Olt: I don't really work on bat speed, but I think maybe because I'm not as long to the ball that it's looking like the bat speed is coming a little bit more than it did last year.
Cole: Have the Rangers told you anything about where you're going to begin the season?
Olt: No, they just said to keep working hard and they're going to find a spot for me. I'm looking to try and get to High-A and start off there.
Cole: As you look forward to your first full season, have you started to set some goals or expectations?
Olt: I'm looking to stay healthy. The best thing is to be on the field. Goal-wise, I didn't really set anything. I just want to keep a steady pace the whole season. I don't want to have as many ups and downs as I did in previous years. I want to kind of stay steady and kind of keep that throughout the whole season.
Cole: Do you have anything in mind in terms of what you'd have to do in order to stay more consistent this season?
Olt: I think with the new stance, it's going to help me out a lot. I think I'm going to cut down on the strikeouts and produce more power numbers. I don't know what it was with the old stance, but I had this little wrap that I was doing with the bat and I got rid of that. I think that has helped me just be quicker.
Cole: How much have you changed the swing?
Olt: I haven't changed much. I just changed a lot of movement. I've eliminated a lot of movement. Now, there's rhythm before the swing and it gets still and ready to hit.
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Olt cleaning up his swing
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