A healthy Mike Olt could add power Cubs lack
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter March 13, 2014 10:38PM
Updated: April 15, 2014 6:34AM
PEORIA, Ariz. — Mike Olt can see. Clearly. Finally.
And, clearly, he can hit.
The only questions with 2½ weeks left before the season opener are how soon can he start playing third base again, and can he do enough to beat out the Luis Valbuena-Donnie Murphy platoon for the Cubs’ Opening Day third-base job?
With Alfonso Soriano gone and nobody else added to pick up his 30-homer production, Olt could be a significant — and rare — source of power for the Cubs if he keeps seeing the ball and swinging the bat as he did Wednesday night.
“I feel good,” said Olt, whose 2013 was ruined by vision problems possibly stemming from a 2012 concussion. “I’m not going to look into [the chance of making the team] right now. I just want to keep focusing on getting better every day, and whatever happens, happens. I just want to make sure whenever I do get the opportunity to play I’m ready.”
Once one of the top prospects in baseball, Olt was available in the Matt Garza trade from Texas last year only because of the allergy/tear-duct issues that hampered his vision and ruined his 2013 season.
But after a battery of medical tests and opinions, the medicated eye drops he used since the end of last season seem to have allowed him to turn the corner. He’s 7-for-21 this spring with three home runs — including two against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night.
“Hopefully, soon it is going to be a [non-issue],” he said, “and I’m going to be back to being my old self and get rolling.”
The next step is returning to his native third base. An annual bout with pre-spring shoulder tenderness has kept him from playing in the field anywhere but first base this spring, but he and manager Rick Renteria say a debut at third is coming “soon.”
Olt expects that to be sometime next week — especially after proving the strength of his shoulder when he started a 3-6-1 double play with an impressive throw Monday against the Giants.
“My shoulder definitely feels great,” said Olt, who for the first time since dealing with the annual shoulder issue rehabbed the joint in the weeks before camp opened. “The velocity’s there. I do notice the strength is definitely there. So once it’s good to go, it should be smooth from there.”
Meanwhile, could Wednesday night’s game have been a preview of coming attractions for the Cubs — with top prospect Javy Baez adding a home run that just missed the scoreboard in left field, his third of the spring.
“Nothing out of the ordinary from what I’ve seen,” Olt said of Baez, who broke at least one car window [legend has it he broke more than that] during early camp batting practice. “I’ve really never seen anything like him. He’s definitely a special player. I’m used to it by now. He’s in my BP group. I see it every day.
“He’s definitely fun to watch.”