Mike Olt’s bat earns him Opening Day spot with Cubs
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter March 27, 2014 10:20PM
MESA, Ariz. — Will Mike Olt become the next core player in the Cubs’ rebuilding plans?
The third baseman once ranked 22nd among Baseball America’s top prospects gets the chance to start answering that question next week after making the big-league club in his first spring with the Cubs.
“I’m excited for it,” Olt said. “Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer] have a plan going for the Cubs, and just listening to it, you get goose bumps for what they’re trying to do. And to be part of that is definitely a special thing. It’s something we’re all going to keep working hard for.”
General manager Hoyer on Thursday finalized the position side of the team’s Opening Day roster when he announced Olt, 25, and outfielder Ryan Kalish, who turns 26 on Friday, had earned the last two spots.
That means outfielder Chris Coghlan, the former rookie of the year with the Marlins, will open the season at Class AAA Iowa. Infielder/outfielder Ryan Roberts chose to opt out of his contract and become a free agent.
Olt isn’t expected to play every day at third right away after taking much of the spring to rebuild strength following some shoulder soreness.
Manager Rick Renteria said left-handed hitting Luis Valbuena will share playing time with the right-handed Olt.
But if Olt continues to look at the plate as he did this spring — and as he projected when he came through the minors with the Rangers before last year’s season-crushing tear-duct/vision problems — it will be hard to keep him out of the lineup.
“The way he swung the bat was really impressive, and we like the work he’s done at third,” Hoyer said.
“He’ll keep getting healthier and keep getting better there. He had a great spring with the bat. He was patient, aggressive. His swings were aggressive, and obviously he did a lot of damage and drove in a lot of runs.
“Over the last two weeks, it was pretty clear if he was able to play third and get enough innings in and enough reps, it was pretty clear we wanted the bat at Wrigley.”
Kalish, a once-promising prospect in Epstein’s Red Sox system, has been waylaid in recent seasons by serious injuries, including one that required spinal-fusion surgery.
“Obviously, this means a ton with everything my body [has gone through] and all the work I’ve put in and all the people that have helped me, my family, rehab people,” said Kalish, who was voted the Red Sox’ rookie of the year in 2010 after a two-month big-league debut.
“But there’s just a greater sense of something bigger going on than just one day of being called up. I want to be a part of what we want to make happen here.”
“We loved the way Kalish played all spring,” Hoyer said. “He showed great energy. He can play all three outfield positions and gives us another left-handed bat.”