Olt getting a taste of the majors

SURPRISE, Ariz. – After an excellent Arizona Fall League performance in which he topped the circuit with 13 home runs in 27 contests, third baseman Mike Olt is opening spring training in major league camp. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 23-year-old prospect on Saturday.

Thanks to a breakout performance last season, 23-year-old prospect Mike Olt appears to be on the fast track. Olt is beginning the spring in major league camp, as he prepares for his second full season in professional baseball.

The former supplemental first-round pick out of UConn hit well in his debut with short-season Spokane in 2010, posting a .293/.390/.464 slash line with 16 doubles, nine home runs and 40 walks in 69 games. The numbers only improved in 69 contests at High-A Myrtle Beach last season. Playing his home games in a pitcher-friendly park, Olt hit .267/.387/.504 while socking 15 doubles, 14 home runs and walking 48 times.

Olt was limited to only 69 games because of a broken collarbone that he sustained during a home-plate collision with a catcher. It was somewhat of a freak injury, and Olt says he no longer feels any lingering effects from it. Still, it was an injury that cost Olt nearly three months of his first full season.

When Olt went down on June 6, he was hitting .286/.395/.508. As the prospect mentions in the following interview, he had some trouble with the collarbone even after returning and went just 10-for-51 (.196) to close out the regular season for the Pelicans.

There appeared to be little injury concern in the Arizona Fall League, however. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Olt put on a serious power display with a league-leading 13 home runs in 27 contests. Overall, he hit .349/.433/.764 with 15 walks and 36 strikeouts.

While his overall game is pretty polished––and he'll almost certainly open the 2012 season at Double-A Frisco––Olt must still cut down on his strikeouts. He whiffed 75 times in 73 overall games last regular season followed by 36 punchouts in 27 Arizona Fall League contests.

Although Olt projects as an all-around plus defensive third baseman––with good range, quickness, hands, arm strength, and overall instincts––the Rangers have Gold Glove-winner Adrian Beltre at the hot corner for the foreseeable future. The club is expected to begin giving Olt looks at first base later in spring training this year, and he could play some regular season games there.

Olt will likely always profile best at third base, but he's a potential plus power bat who will also draw his share of walks. He may also have the athleticism necessary to work in a corner outfield spot or perhaps even second base if needed.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with Olt after a major league workout on Saturday afternoon.

Jason Cole: You played your first full season in 2011 before spending a couple months in the Arizona Fall League. How was it stamina-wise? Did you feel a little tired?

Mike Olt: I think, when I got hurt, that I was able to get my body in shape. That was the main focal point coming back. When I got back to the Fall League, I was actually in perfect mid-season form, I felt like. I think that helped.

Cole: Were there any lingering issues from the injury when you came back at the end of the season in Myrtle Beach?

Olt: When I first came back, I couldn't really do much. I couldn't swing extra. I could just take maybe BP and then the game because it was so sore. But now, it's nothing. In the Fall League, I didn't feel anything. I wake up everyday and I'm not sore at all, so that's good.

Cole: You obviously played well in the Fall League and led the circuit in home runs. What did you come away with from your performance out there?

Olt: I think the best thing that I got out of the Fall League was my approach at the plate. I developed something that worked, and I stuck with it the whole season. I'm going to carry that into this season here.

Cole: What specifically in your approach were you able to develop?

Olt: I was able to just trust myself, thinking the middle of the field the whole time. And then if they come in, I was trusting my hands that I could get there. Sometimes my focal point is to try and cheat a little bit on the inside pitch. When you do that, you're subject to get put away with these guys away. So that was my main point, and I stuck with it.

Cole: Was there any adjustment in your swing, or was it just about how you approach certain at-bats and pitches?

Olt: No real adjustment with the swing. I was narrow in Myrtle––a little bit more narrow. I guess I kind of crouched down and widened my stance a little bit, but that's about it.

Cole: Tell me about coming out here and facing live pitching early in camp. I know the Rangers have a lot of guys who show plus velocity out here.

Olt: Yeah, it has been good. It's definitely good to face these guys and get ready with them. Hopefully it gets easier (laughs), because they definitely are good. It's just good to get back in the box and see live pitching again.

Cole: Who did you face in the first two intrasquad games?

Olt: The first couple days, I faced Eppley. That was the first guy I faced––that wasn't fun. Then I faced Neil Ramirez, who looked good. Also Justin Miller, Matt West, and I faced Darvish that one day.

Cole: How is Darvish?

Olt: He's good. Yeah, he is good. He's got a lot of movement on the ball.

Cole: You're heading into your second full season of professional ball. Tell me about being in big league camp and being around those more experienced guys. What have you been able to pick up?

Olt: It has been a great experience. These guys––the way they go about their business––I'm just kind of sitting back and watching it. These guys all like to have fun, and that's a good way to be. When they do go about their business, it's fun to watch. I think that's the best thing so far––just the experience of being around these guys and learning how they do it.

Cole: There was a lot of talk over the offseason about how you were going to be picking up the first baseman's glove. You've been at third base in the first two intrasquad games. Have you been working out at first base yet?

Olt: I worked out––I just bring both gloves and every three or four days, maybe I'll go over to first base and just get a feel for it. I think, when I move over to the minor league side, I'll start working on it a little bit more. But right now, it's just mainly third base.

Cole: I assume you're heading to Frisco to begin the 2012 regular season. Have you spoken to the Rangers about whether or not you'll be playing first base on a semi-regular basis there?

Olt: No, they haven't talked to me about that. I'm just going to go with the flow and try to get myself as comfortable as I can over there.

Cole: Did you take any ground balls at first over the offseason?

Olt: Yeah, I found out in January––after Christmas. They said that they wanted me to get familiar with playing over there, so I was able to do it at UConn.

Cole: Have you played any games over there yet?

Olt: No, I've never played first base ever.

Cole: From taking the ground balls, how has it been so far? How different is it from third?

Olt: I think it's an easy transition for an infielder to go to first. If you're an outfielder going to first, it'd be a little bit tougher. But my main thing is just trying to figure out where I'm supposed to be at certain times and just getting more comfortable around the bag.

Cole: Did you see Ronald Guzman go into the full splits to stretch out for a ball the other day?

Olt: Yeah.

Cole: Can you do that?

Olt: No (laughs). I can't even touch my toes. I won't do that. I'll just try and pick it.

Cole: Going back to your game at third base, you're obviously an advanced defender over there. But how do you think you can still improve at third?

Olt: I can definitely still improve at third. The main thing that I want to do is improve my range. I got a little bit more leaner in the offseason. I think it has helped.

Cole: What's your main focus in camp this year?

Olt: I'm just trying to get back to being comfortable again––both offensively and defensively. I just want to get back into the swing of things.

Cole: It's early in your first big league camp and you're trying to shake off the rust, like everyone else. Is it difficult to keep from putting too much pressure on yourself while playing against the veterans?

Olt: No, these guys make it easy. It's a loose atmosphere. Everyone has made it easy for me. They all want to help. That helps me, and then I can just go out and play.

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