Word broke last night that the Rangers had purchased the contract of AA third baseman Mike Olt, with Brandon Snyder being optioned to AAA. With lefty C.J. Wilson starting for the Angels today, the expectation is that Olt will make his major league debut tonight, and there seems to be no question that Olt will get more playing time than Snyder, who logged just 68 plate appearances despite being on the active roster all season.
The real question is, how much is Mike Olt going to play, and who is he going to take at bats away from?
Olt was a supplemental first round draft choice of the Rangers in the 2010 MLB draft, going #49 overall. Those who frequented LSB at the time remember that there was a fair amount of consternation among some commenters here over the selection, with many seeing Olt as being a low-ceiling defensive specialist who had swing issues.
Olt impressed almost immediately, however, performing very well in Spokane in 2010, having a great season in high-A Myrtle Beach in 2011 that was marred only by a broken collarbone that cost him a couple of months, wowing the scouts with his performance in the Arizona Fall League last fall, and then tearing up the Texas League in 2012.
|2011||22||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A+-Rk||TEX||73||307||254||41||67||15||0||15||46||0||1||49||75||.264||.381||.500||.881|
I've been doubtful that Olt would get called up prior to September, and so this move surprised me. My doubts stemmed in part from my belief that Olt's high-K, high-power style would result in more growing pains than usual for a player making the transition to the majors, making the Rangers more reluctant than normal to thrust him into the middle of a pennant race. More significantly, though, was my belief that, with Adrian Beltre entrenched at third base (Olt's primary position), there wasn't a position for Olt to play at the major league level. Yes, he can play some first base, and he could DH, but I couldn't see Olt taking at bats away from Michael Young at the first base and DH spots.
But the winds of change may be blowing in Arlington right now. Prior to last night's amazing victory, the Angels had cut the Rangers' once dominating nine game lead down to three in the A.L. West. The offense was the worst in the A.L. in the month of July. The team has been playing poorly. It is a lot easier to be patient with your non-performers when the team is winning, when you have a huge lead. Its harder to do that when you're heading into the home stretch and you've got two teams hot on your heels.
The Rangers haven't said how much Olt will play, but my guess is that he's playing against most lefties and some righthanders for at least a little while. The Rangers wouldn't be calling him up just to sit, and I think they want to get a handle on whether he is ready to perform at the major league level, both so they know whether they can count on him down the stretch and in the playoffs this year, and so they can decide whether they can plug him into the lineup in 2013. In this regard, I think swapping Olt and Snyder is similar to the Geovany Soto/Yorvit Torrealba switch that was done a couple of days ago...yes, there's a good chance the new guy may not outperform the old guy, but there's a lot more upside available with the new guy, and it gives the Rangers a better chance to figure out what they're going to do next year while still trying to win this year.
If Olt performs, he'll get playing time. If Olt doesn't perform, he'll sit. But if Olt gets playing time, its going to have to be at the expense of someone getting regular playing time now. I don't suspect he's going to be starting in the outfield, which means the David Murphy/Craig Gentry platoon will stay intact. If he's getting time at 1B and DH -- the most likely scenario -- it means that he's going to be taking at bats away from some combination of Michael Young, Mitch Moreland, and possibly Mike Napoli.
Against lefthanders, that's easy enough...Moreland is going to sit against lefties regardless. Against righthanders, though, you've got two spots for Moreland, Olt and Young (plus Napoli, is he isn't catching). My guess is that Washington does a mix-and-match arrangement for the next few weeks against righthanders, spotting Olt in there against righties while sitting Moreland and Young occasionally.
The thing is, if this is a true meritocracy, Michael Young is the one who will lose playing time. He's 35 years old, has no defensive value, and is hitting .268/.296/.345 on the season. Yorvit Torrealba, who was designated for assignment because he wasn't playing well enough to keep his job, had a 643 OPS -- 2 points higher than Young. His defenders have said, "Young is heating up, he's hitting .292 since July 8." And while its true that he's hitting .292 since July 8, it is with three extra base hits and one walk. His slash line during that time is .292/.293/.347. And the reason the Young defenders pick July 8 as their starting point is because he went 4 for 6 with a double that day...if you look just at Young's post-ASB slash line, he's at .258/.261/.303. Even in the month of July, when all the Rangers hitters (other than Nelson Cruz) have been slumping, Young was at the bottom of the group.
Despite all this, I still would have said, there's no way Young sits, except for the fact that, when the Rangers announced that they had traded for Ryan Dempster, it was Roy Oswalt, not Scott Feldman, who was sent to the bullpen. Oswalt, the guy they are paying $5 million for a half season's work, the guy who is tight with Nolan Ryan and Mike Maddux, one of the best pitchers of his generation, was sent to the bullpen because he wasn't getting the job done. If the Rangers are willing to send Oswalt and his ERA+ of 69 to the bullpen, I would be surprised if they aren't willing to cut back the playing time of Michael Young and his OPS+ of 68.
This, of course, is all dependent on Mike Olt's performance. If he comes up and goes 2 for 30 with 17 Ks, well, he's not going to play regularly. But I think Olt is going to get the opportunity to seize a regular job. And if Olt does take advantage of that opportunity, its going to have to come at the expense of Michael Young.