Olt to make spring debut at 3B Thursday

MESA, Ariz. -- The much anticipated spring debut at third base for Chicago Cubs prospect Mike Olt is scheduled to take place Thursday against the Seattle Mariners.

Olt has been unable to play his natural position due to a lingering problem in his throwing shoulder. But he says he's finally ready for game action.

"Everything feels a lot better," Olt said Wednesday afternoon. "Just went out there and did some work and it's the best it's felt."

If Olt can handle the duties at third base without any lingering issues there shouldn't be anything stopping him from winning the Opening Day job, and he'll have a week to get comfortable.

Manager Rick Renteria is keeping it close to the vest when it comes to Olt making the team and even starting on Opening Day.

“He has to be able to be healthy,” Renteria said. “We can’t make a determination on anything as far as where he’s going to be until he’s capable of going out there. We’ve got to take it one day at a time.”

The Cubs have a platoon of Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy playing third, but neither has the upside of Olt. When right, his bat can be a dangerous weapon in the lineup. He hit 28 home runs in 2012 at Double-A and even smacked 15 last season in a year where he couldn't see the ball well. He hit his fourth home run of the spring on Tuesday night, an opposite-field shot against the Texas Rangers.

"In the box it's just seeing the ball, hitting the ball," Olt said. "I'm not thinking about hands, when to get my feet going or all that stuff."

In other words, hitting is back to being instinctual for him. It's a far cry from his 2013 performance, when any success was basically due to "luck," according to Olt. That's because those vision problems caused his entire approach to suffer.

"I don't mind answering questions," Olt said in reference to his shoulder and eyesight. "If everything stays well. It's better than last year, answering questions I didn't know."

The right eye drops did the trick and now the rehab on the shoulder has paid off. There's no reason Olt can't win the job at third at this point. If he's playing third base on Opening Day it moves the left-handed Valbuena and right-handed Murphy into backup roles which probably fit their skill sets better. The infield would consist of Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, Olt, Valbuena and Murphy. Emilio Bonifacio would be the super utility player who can play both infield and outfield.

But first Olt has to prove he's completely healthy. Ironically, he's already mostly done that by putting the most serious of his problems -- his vision -- behind. Not everything has been perfect though, as he's struck out 12 times in 31 at-bats, but many of his outs have been hard-hit balls and his home runs and RBIs (9) lead the team.

"It's going to be up to them," Olt said about making the team. "I'm just looking to get out there. It'll take a little getting used to [playing third]. It's not like riding a bike, but I'm looking forward to getting out there."

Another piece to the Cubs' puzzle could be falling into place and it's one that might be a surprise to Cubs brass. He wasn't the key piece to the trade that sent Matt Garza to Texas -- that was pitcher C.J. Edwards -- nor did the Cubs know if his vision problems would clear up. But things have gone so well for Olt that Thursday could be another symbolic step in the Cubs' rebuilding process.