As he matures, Mike Olt is settling in with the Cubs

As he matures, Mike Olt is settling in with the Cubs
May 11, 2014, 12:30 am
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Tony Andracki

Depending on how you look at it, Mike Olt's all or nothing style has worked this year.

After crushing a homer in his third straight game Friday night, the 25-year-old third baseman has as many homers as singles (7), a quirky stat that should correct itself with a little luck.

Olt's BABIP (batting average on balls in play) sits at .182, which is pulling his overall batting average down to .185. 

But Olt has made the most of his few hits, on pace for 32 homers and 79 RBI in 375 at-bats. Following an 0-for-3 performance Saturday against the Atlanta Braves, he carries a .721 OPS, which is only slightly behind Starlin Castro's .759 mark in terms of offensive efficiency.

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It's been a whirlwind six weeks to start the season for Olt, who has seen inconsistent playing time as the Cubs made it a point to bring him along slowly.

"I could take all the positives from what has happened," he said. "Definitely, there are some good at-bats that I've had. It's just a fact of seeing pitchers. I haven't faced many of these guys before.

"Even when I'm on the bench, understanding what guys are doing and getting the gameplan so when I do face them in the future, I'm going to be ready for those situations.

"Everybody goes into a funk. You don't want to start at the beginning of the season, but that's baseball. That's what makes it fun. You just work out of those things and get back into the groove."

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"Fun" is a weird word to use form a guy who hasn't had an average above .200 since April 19. But it shows the budding confidence Olt is developing as the season wears on.

"You know he's got a chance every time he puts the barrel on the baseball to really drive the ball," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "Obviously, that's evident by what he's been doing in the short spurts of playing time.

"There's confidence building. He keeps chipping away and hopefully it's something we can build on and move forward."

To start the season, the Cubs shielded Olt, who had only 33 big-league at-bats before 2014 and saw his career nearly derailed last year with vision/eye issues. The slugger spent most of his time facing lefties early on, but has drawn three straight starts against righties through Saturday.

The Rangers named Olt their 2012 minor league player of the year when he put up a .977 OPS with Double-A Frisco, slugging 28 homers in 95 games. But after more than a season of struggles at the plate, Olt is beginning to make the adjustments required of big-league players.

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"I still have a lot to work on," he said. "I'm starting to understand myself as a hitter, what I need to do, what I need to work on. It's been a long month, but I've taken a lot out of it.

"I think I got myself out a lot. I didn't have a great approach. I kept getting myself out swinging at bad pitches, getting in tough counts, getting behind in counts. I have a new approach and I'm gonna go from there."

Olt said he never looks at his batting average, but admits it's tough to ignore when it's plastered on scoreboards all over stadiums. But, he understands how the game works and believes it will all even out in the end.

The New Haven, Conn. native is getting his first true taste of the Chicago market and left his stamp on the Crosstown Classic, homering in both games at U.S. Cellular Field, including a back-breaking grand slam in Thursday's 12-5 victory.

Olt's only prior experience with Chicago came via word of mouth, but admits the Windy City - and specifically, the North Side - has been as advertised so far.

"I was prepared," he said. "We did a lot of things in the offseason. [Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein] had a couple sessions for the younger guys to come in, so we were kinda prepared for some of the things that might happen.

"It's a business and it's something that, as I've grown older as a baseball player, I've learned to accept it all."

Olt's first season in Chicago has been filled with frustration, both personal - with his inconsitent playing time - and with his team, as the 12-23 Cubs have the second-worst record in Major League Baseball.

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But he's heard all the stories from Jeff Samardzija and others in the organization who were around in 2007-08, when Wrigley Field was a party every night and the Cubs were the class of the National League (at least in the regular season).

Olt hopes he's still around when the Cubs return to prominence.

"You never want to lose," he said. "I think we're doing a good job of staying upbeat. It's easy to get down on everybody and then things kind of start spiraling down. But we've got some good leaders on the team that keep everybody loose.

"As long as we can kinda stay through that and get through this tough time, I think there's a lot of good things that can come from this season."

One of the best things that can come from this season for the Cubs is if Olt can emerge as a true core piece for the franchise.

Can he continue to make the adjustments?