Third baseman Mike Olt not only changed organizations, he changed leagues earlier this week.
Acquired by the Chicago Cubs in a trade with the Texas Rangers for right-hander Matt Garza, Olt experienced his first game without a designated hitter Wednesday night when the Iowa Cubs hosted New Orleans, the Marlins' Triple-A affiliate.
“I was caught off guard,” Olt said. “When the No. 9 hitter was up with two outs, my manager (Marty Pevey) hollered, ‘Watch for the bunt?' I was like, ‘Why would I look for the bunt?' Then I noticed the pitcher was up. There are new things I have to learn. It will take a little time.”
A slick-fielding power hitter, Olt was still digesting the trade before Iowa's game against the RedHawks Friday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
“I was surprised because all the (trade) talk two days before had died down,” Olt said. “Texas is a great organization with great people. I have nothing but good things to say about them. I learned a lot. But obviously this is a great opportunity to have a shot to play third base (in the majors).”
A first-round pick in 2010, the 49th overall selection, Olt was blocked in Texas by All-Star third baseman Adrian Beltre. He's now viewed as the Cubs' third baseman of the future.
Before he is promoted to the majors, the Cubs want Olt to show some consistency in Triple-A. He hit .282 with 52 home runs his first three years in Texas' system but is hitting .217 this season.
But there were extenuating circumstances. Olt had vision problems during spring training. His troubles continued in April. The first 20 games with Round Rock, the Rangers' Triple-A team, Olt batted .139.
“Things were a little blurry, but when I blinked they went away,” Olt said. “I never had that before.”
The Rangers placed Olt on the disabled list. Specialists couldn't pinpoint the problem. Texas officials felt it might be related to a concussion when Olt was beaned in winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
Turns out Olt simply needed eye drops. His first five weeks after he returned, Olt hit .268 with eight homers.
“When they finally figured out the problem, within an hour it was night and day,” Olt said. “The eye problem is over. I had a good June. I've hit a little bit of a slump in July but it's a regular baseball slump. It's nothing like April.”
RedHawks center fielder George Springer and Olt, both top-25 minor league prospects, were teammates at Connecticut.
“I have no doubts Mike will have a long career in the big leagues, be an impact player,” Springer said. “He's incredible in the field and is an extremely talented hitter, a smart hitter. That's what goes underestimated about him, his ability to adjust.”
Named the Rangers' Minor League Player of the Year after slamming 28 homers last season, Olt is more than a power hitter. One of the best defensive third basemen in the minors, Olt could someday win a Gold Glove.
“I played shortstop my freshmen and sophomore years at UConn but got in a bad slump defensively my sophomore year,” Olt said. “After I moved to third base, that was the first time I took a lot of pride in my defense. After that it became a constant part of my game.
“I made improvement in my range. Along the way I've picked up little details from players like Adrian Beltre. I now take a lot of pride in my defense.”
Olt also takes pride in his hitting. He has 12 homers and owns a respectable .316 on-base percentage this season.
“He has high upside. Hopefully he can get off to a good start here,” Pevey said. “He plays tremendous defense. Right now he's swinging a little uphill. We need to flatten his swing out and get him to a point he's making more solid contact.”
Olt views staying in Triple-A as a positive.
“When I get up there (in the majors) I want to feel like myself,” Olt said. “I've shown signs of getting back to where I need to be. I've come a long way since the eye injury. I'm starting to feel real comfortable.”