A Primer On Rangers Rookie Sensation Mike Olt.
Last Sunday night in Kansas City will not go down in history as one of Mike Olt's greatest games.
In only his third Major League appearance, the 23-year-old Rangers super prospect was caught stealing home on an unsuccessful suicide squeeze that would have given the Rangers the lead in the top of the 9th inning. He also struck out swinging with the bases loaded to end a rally in the top of the 10th inning and then committed a throwing error that allowed the game-ending run to score and give the Rangers (who had been playing inspired baseball after an incredibly abysmal July) their first loss in the month of August in the bottom of the 10th.
Those unfortunate events aside, when you have a player with the kind of talent Olt possesses, you have to accept the inevitable growing pains and keep calm. And you have to hold onto him.
The Rangers, to their credit, seem intent on doing both of these things.
As the trade deadline grew close and Texas was rumored to be in talks with just about any club that had a top-tier pitcher on the trading block, Olt's name was continuously rumored to be included in any deal that could net the Rangers a front-of-the-rotation arm. But then came word from the Rangers' front office that Olt had been deemed “untradeable.”
The announcement was a little surprising — the Rangers, after all, certainly appear to be running in “win now” mode — and the front office vote of confidence left many Rangers fans scratching their heads and wondering exactly what the Rangers had in Olt.
For an idea of why the front office was so strong in their stance against trading him, let's take a look at Olt's rapid rise from somewhat unknown minor league ballplayer to potential major league stud over the last 24 months.
Drafted 49th overall in the 2010 draft out of the University of Connecticut, Olt was considered to have a very strong glove at third Base and a good amount of pop in his bat (he hit 23 home runs his last year at UConn). But, throughout the scouting process, there always appeared a weakness in the form of a swing with holes in it. In other words: The guy looked like a walking strikeout.
After signing with Texas and being assigned to the Rangers' minor league club in Spokane, the high strikeout rate fears were confirmed. In just over 300 plate appearances in Spokane, Olt struck out 77 times.
But he also showed promise with a higher-than-anticipated batting averages, on-base percentages and slugging percentages (.293/.390/.464 for those scoring at home). And he did so while hitting nine home runs, driving in 43 RBIs and drawing a respectable 40 walks.
Olt started the 2011 season in Myrtle Beach with the Rangers' high-A affiliate, and started off strong before being breaking his collarbone and missing two months of the season. Once all was said and done, Olt's state line was impressive: He managed to hit 14 home runs and drive in 42 runs in just 69 games, while posting an OPS of just under .900.
This, unsurprisingly, is when people around baseball started to take notice of the young prospect.
Then, in the Arizona Fall League, Olt formally broke out. He led the league in slugging percentage, home runs and RBIs.
Suddenly, Olt found his name listed among other top-tier hitting prospects in the league — a list that includes fellow 2012 breakout stars Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, both of whom also participated in the Arizona Fall League.
This season brought Olt to Texas' AA team in Frisco, and, in 95 games, he hit .288 with 28 HR and 42 RBI while playing his usual spectacular defense at third. His strikeout numbers remained high as expected (he notched a whopping 101 punchouts in 492 plate appearances), but he was also doing something new, drawing a decent number of walks (61).
In Frisco, and with Adrian Beltre locked into a contract in the Bigs that will see him at third base for the Rangers for the next five years, Olt started getting looks at first base (13 games) and in the outfield (3 games), in an effort to get him accustomed to playing any position that might be asked of him if (read: when) he were to get the call to the big league club.
On August 1st, just hours after the trade deadline, Texas did just that — much to the excitement and surprise of many fans and most of the baseball media. But with the team coming off a horrid month of June at the plate, it was thought that, at the very least, bringing Olt up would provide a spark in the Rangers lineup.
It did: On August 2, Olt started his very first game and immediately made his presence felt. He singled and scored a run in his first big league at-bat. Since then, his numbers have continued to impress. In the five games in which he's made an appearance since being called up, Olt is 3 for 10 at the place. He's also scored two runs and registered another four runs batted in, one of which came against Detroit on Saturday when Olt was called off the bench to pinch-hit and ended up hitting a game-winning, walk-off RBI single.
So what exactly do we have here in Mike Olt?
What can we expect from him over the course of the remaining games this season?
What about beyond?
In the short-term, expect to only see more of Olt, with him platooning at first base with Mitch Moreland and likely starting against left-handed pitchers while possibly getting some starts at 3rd base to spell Adrian Beltre.
Next season, expect Olt to fight for more than a platoon situation.
Texas has some big name bats entering the free agent market — Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, just to name a couple — and Olt's bat seemed primed to be this offense's future.
As we saw last Sunday night, there will of course be some bumps on the road as that future comes into shape. But given the bulk of what we've seen from Olt so far, that future certainly seems to be one worth watching.