PHILADELPHIA – Two-and-a-half months into an up-and-down, all-or-nothing season, the Cubs still don’t really know what they have in Mike Olt.
Olt’s been a mystery player since coming over in last summer’s Matt Garza deal with the Texas Rangers. He’s past the concussion/vision issues that sidetracked his career. He’s shown signs of being a middle-of-the-order force. He’s got 10 homers and nine singles on June 15.
“It’s been really weird,” Olt said. “It’s like I forgot how to just get like a rollover single or something."
Olt wasn’t in Sunday’s lineup after snapping an 0-for-20 streak with a home run during Saturday’s 7-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. He’s leading all National League rookies in homers and RBI (25) while hitting .152 with 60 strikeouts in 145 at-bats.
“Look, we know we have a guy that when he barrels a ball he can obviously drive it,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He still is a young man that’s working on who he is, trying to find the right mix and approach that he can put together.
“We’re still trying to find a way to give him an opportunity to match up against certain guys, to see if we can continue to elevate that confidence.”
The Cubs have given Olt the vote of confidence, knowing well-regarded prospect Christian Villanueva is playing third base at Triple-A Iowa while Kris Bryant, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, doesn’t have much left to prove at Double-A Tennessee.
“Just keep your head up,” Olt said, relaying the message from the coaching staff. “They’ve seen this before. It happens and they’re all in my corner.”
Renteria admitted Olt could make some adjustments, improving his two-strike approach and maybe shortening his swing.
“We’re still trying to figure out where he’s at,” Renteria said. “But we know we have a guy with power and we know that we’re trying to ease his concerns. I know you guys (in the media) mention a lot that he’s got a lot of strikeouts. I’m not worried about his strikeouts.
“I’m more concerned (about) his approaches in good hitter’s counts, because we know when he swings the bat, there’s a chance for something good to happen.”
Olt became untouchable in 2012, hitting .288 with 28 homers and 82 RBI in 95 games at Double-A Frisco, earning a promotion to Texas and becoming the organization’s minor league player of the year.
Now Olt’s been phased out by the emergence of Luis Valbuena, and a 13-for-100 stretch (with 16 RBI) in his last 36 games.
Renteria said: “(It’s) just making sure that he understands once he does get into a particular count or in a hitter’s situation, he trusts himself to swing the bat. I think sometimes he can be a little tentative.”
Olt’s been a focal point since spring training for Cubs fans and the Chicago media, handling all the attention and questions without getting angry or defensive.
“I’m definitely seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Olt said. “I’m just going to go from there and keep working, and things will start falling into place.”