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Mike Olt looks to put injury issues behind, start season in majors

Updated: March 26, 2014 12:24AM



MESA, Ariz. — Mike Olt doesn’t seem to know how badly Cubs fans want to see him in the Opening Day lineup at third base. But he did get a glimpse at the Cubs Convention of how hungry fans are for any semblance of progress and hope in this long, ugly rebuilding process.

‘‘That’s where I first saw it,’’ Olt said. ‘‘People are sitting there crying because they’re so excited for the season. I used to think Texas fans were pretty intense and really supportive — and they are. But the way the Cubs fans are, it’s a huge deal.’’

He said he didn’t hear a lot from fans about being the Cubs’ third baseman this season.

‘‘They just mainly asked me how my eyes were,’’ he said.

That’s the thing.

‘‘He’s really seeing the ball well,’’ manager Rick Renteria said, referring to the tear-duct and vision problems that ruined Olt’s 2013 season and made him available to the Cubs when they traded right-hander Matt Garza to the Rangers in July.

Seeing the ball hasn’t been nearly the challenge — or nearly the
obstacle in Olt’s battle for a big-league job — as throwing it has been this spring. That’s why Tuesday might have been the biggest day of the spring for Olt, who was considered one of the better defensive third basemen in the minors when Baseball America ranked him the 22nd-best prospect in baseball entering 2013.

A sore shoulder that prevented him from playing third until late last week has raised doubts about Olt’s fitness to play his position, much less make the team, especially after he airmailed his first throw from third Sunday.

But Olt sparkled in the field Tuesday, charging a bunt by Mike Trout in the third and firing to first in one motion for the out, then making another strong, accurate throw after another nice play in the fifth.

‘‘The thing about defense is it
always comes quick for me,’’ he said. ‘‘Hitting was the part that never really came quick. I think that’s a good thing for me.’’

It might be a really good thing for the Cubs if his .277 spring
average with five home runs in 16 games full of deep-count at-bats is an indication of what’s to come.

‘‘He’s looked like the guy from an offensive side that everybody
expected to see a few years ago,’’ Renteria said.

Olt might not make the difference between last place and first for the Cubs. But if he can stick at third, he might be the first guy added to the lineup worthy of any excitement since Anthony Rizzo answered the hype in 2012 with an impressive three-month debut.

If nothing else, Olt feels as close to the big leagues as he ever has
because nobody named Adrian Beltre plays his position with the Cubs.

‘‘It’s almost like I knew I wasn’t going to play third [for the Rangers], so it was kind of like I didn’t have that competitive edge as much,’’ he said. ‘‘Now I can definitely have a shot playing there, and I’ve been focused the whole time. I definitely think that helps.’’

That focus means not thinking about roster decisions that are out of his control.

‘‘I’m just excited how I came back hitting, especially after last year,’’ Olt said. ‘‘The way I feel at the plate and the way I have that confidence back that I had two years ago. We’ll see what happens.’’

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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