In the aftermath of the community prospect rankings wrapping up, we continue our write-ups for each Ranger prospect who finished in the top 25. Once again, I issue my usual caveat that I have no first-hand information about these guys, but am simply offering capsule scouting reports for each player based on the info that is out there.
After the jump, we continue by taking a look at the #3 player in the LSB Community Prospect Rankings, third baseman Mike Olt.
Mike Olt is a 23 year old righthanded hitting third baseman who was selected by the Rangers out of the University of Connecticut with a compensatory pick (for the loss of Marlon Byrd) in the supplemental first round of the 2010 draft, going #49 overall, four picks after Texas picked high school righty pitcher Luke Jackson.*
* Anyone remember who the Jackson pick was compensation for? No? I didn't think so...
UConn isn't exactly known as a baseball factory -- prior to Olt, the last first rounder from UConn was Chuck Nagy, and other than Nagy, the most successful Huskie major leaguer is probably Rajai Davis -- and the pick was met with some consternation and concern among those Rangers fans who closely follow the draft. Baseball America had Olt ranked as the #98 prospect nationally going into the draft, saying that while his glove got positive reviews, he had holes in his swing and pitch recognition issues, although there was "reason to hope he can become an average major league hitter."
Olt signed quickly and was assigned to Spokane, where he got good reviews while posting a .293/.390/.464 line, although the 77 strikeouts in 310 plate appearances gave reason for concern. Still, Olt generated a lot of positive buzz through instructionals, with his bat getting better reviews than anticipated, and there was a sense that he could be a breakout guy in the Rangers system in 2011.
Olt lived up to the hype in 2011, getting off to a red-hot start in the high-A Carolina League, and seemingly being on track to get a second-half promotion to AA before a home plate collision on June 6 resulted in a broken collarbone that sidelined him for the next two months. Nevertheless, Olt finished up with a .267/.387/.504 line in 292 plate appearances in a pitcher's league, a showing that was good enough for BA to slot Olt at #3 in their Carolina League top 20 prospects, and earned him this praise:
"He reminded me of when I saw Evan Longoria in Double-A," Lynchburg manager Luis Salazar said. "He looks just like him. He's a tremendous athlete, he can pick it at third base and he's got good power to right-center field. This kid is a major league third baseman."
Olt followed that up with a terrific Arizona Fall League campaign, leading the league in home runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage, and his 1197 OPS was second-highest in the league, just 7 points behind Jedd Gyorko. That went a long way towards him getting named the #7 prospect in the AFL by BA, which is even more impressive when you realize that the top five prospects on the list were Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Danny Hultzen, Gerrit Cole, and Wil Myers.
The concern with a lot of power-hitting third basemen is that they aren't going to be able to handle the hot corner long term and will have to move across the diamond to first base...Mark McGwire, Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell, and Mark Teixeira, among others, started their careers as third basemen before getting shifted.
That's not a concern with Olt, however. He played shortstop as a freshman at UConn, and while reports on his defense vary, just about every observer has him as no worse than average at the position, and he generally gets an above-average grade for his defense, with most pegging him as an above-average defender and some suggesting he could be Gold Glove caliber at the hot corner. Third base has traditionally been a difficult position for major league teams to fill, and a plus defender who can hit has a lot of value.
Offensively, Olt doesn't profile to hit for a high average -- he's not a burner (his speed has been described as "fringe-average"), and he strikes out a lot, so he's someone you figure isn't likely to be more than a .260-.270 hitter in the majors, even if things break right for him. However, because Olt hits for power and draws walks, he doesn't have to be a high-average hitter to be a quality offensive player.
We talked last time about Martin Perez, and how his future was largely going to be a product of how his command develops. Similarly, with Olt, his future rests on his hit tool, and how that translates as he moves up the developmental ladder. He's got the power, the plate discipline, and the defensive chops to be a quality major league third baseman...whether he cashes in on that promise will depend on how his hit tool develops and translates at the upper levels. If he can simply hit .240 while maintaining his power and his walks, he'll be able to have a 10 year major league career. That's easier said than done, however...we said that if Taylor Teagarden could hit .220, he'd be a solid major league catcher, and that hasn't happened.
How quickly can we expect to see Olt? As a college draftee in 2010, he doesn't have to be put on the 40 man roster until after the 2013 season, and unless Adrian Beltre gets injured, it doesn't seem likely he'll be on the Rangers major league roster before at least September, 2013. Olt still has less than a full season's worth of minor league games under his belt, and seems likely to start the 2012 season at AA Frisco. While a great first half could result in a promotion to Round Rock before 2012 is over, high-power, high-strikeout hitters often seem to take a little longer to adjust to the higher levels as they move up the ladder. A full season in Frisco in 2012, and a full season in Round Rock in 2013, wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, and the makeup of the major league club is such that it is unlikely that the Rangers will have to press him into a starting job before then.
So what sort of ceiling does Olt have? The comparison I've been making for a while is that, if Olt pans out, he can be Dan Uggla with very good third base defense. To put that in perspective, Uggla, for his career, has been a .258/.343/.482 hitter, with 33 homers, 73 walks, and 158 strikeouts per 162 games.
If Olt does that for a five year stretch from year 2 to year 6 of his major league career, with his glovework, that's a very good player, probably a 4-5 WAR player.
One of the controversies that erupted this summer, in light of Olt's breakout, Mitch Moreland's struggles, and Adrian Beltre having five years left on his deal, is whether Olt should be moved to first base. It has been argued that if Olt's bat lives up to his potential, then instead of trading Olt, the Rangers should just slide him over to first base and let him take over there in 2013.
While I wouldn't rule it out completely, I think, generally speaking, it is a pretty bad idea. Even if we assume Olt can become a plus defender at first base -- a not unreasonable assumption, I believe -- moving a quality defensive third baseman across the diamond to first base kills a lot of the player's value. The 162 game average posted above provides a lot of value if the player putting those numbers up is doing so while offering above-average defense at third base...if the player is doing it at first base, however, even with good defense, you're talking about a downgrade from a borderline All Star to maybe an average regular.
This talk is premature, in any case...if Mike Olt performs up to expectations, and if Adrian Beltre continues to play like he did in 2011, then the Rangers will have a nice problem on their hands. They could decide to include Olt as the prize piece in a trade package to land a key veteran, or they could see what the trade market holds for Beltre (who would be moveable if he keeps playing at this level).
Its a good problem to have.