Just two years after entering the Texas Rangers minor league system, Mike Olt has progressed into one of the Rangers' top prospects, but it’s been a process. The slugging third baseman has polished his skills on the diamond and, most importantly, grown a characteristic that may be the difference between making the major leagues or not: patience.
The Rangers drafted Olt with the 49th pick in the supplemental first round of 2010 First-Year Player Draft after a successful three-year career at the University of Connecticut. With the Huskies, Olt became a prospect who teams were taking a serious look at, and when Texas came calling, he couldn’t pass it up.
“I was really excited to get drafted by Texas,” Olt said. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about Texas. I heard they had a great minor league system, and I was going to learn a lot and be able to push myself to move up the ladder. It’s been a great experience so far.”
Olt, who will play for the U.S. team in the 2012 Futures Game on Sunday as part of the MLB's All-Star Game festivities, has spent the entire 2012 campaign with the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate, the Frisco RoughRiders. The talented third baseman has put up impressive numbers, hitting .297 this season with 22 home runs and 62 RBIs.
“He’s got awesome power,” RoughRiders manager Steve Buechele said. “He’s been a real good breaking ball hitter. He’s hitting mistakes and taking advantage of it. I think if there’s one thing he’ll get better at it will be jumping on fastballs in hitter’s counts. If he starts doing that, I think you may see some even better power numbers.”
A lot of his power at the plate has come this season. Olt hit a combined 24 home runs in his first two seasons in the Rangers’ minor league system, but those numbers are steadily climbing year by year. What has been the difference? Olt says it’s all about patience.
“I just think it’s just a matter of getting yourself in good counts,” Olt said. “Early in my pro career, I was really aggressive at the plate, and I found myself getting myself out a lot because I was swinging at tough pitches and putting myself in pitcher’s counts. This year, I’ve improved my approach at the plate, and I’m seeing myself get into better counts because of it. Then, the pitcher has to come to me a little bit more, and I’ve been able to take advantage of it.”
Senior director of player development Tim Purpura is in his first season with the Rangers, but he has already seen extensive improvement at the plate from Olt.
“What I’ve seen so far this year is that his patience at the plate has grown,” Purpura said. “He is much more plate aware than he was even in spring training. I think he learned the lesson in spring training about being selective on pitches and getting a good pitch to hit and being able to drive the ball. What I’ve seen is the patience at the plate grow and just the confidence that he knows he belongs. He knows he can play at the big league level. He knows he’s got to wait on his opportunity to do so, but his confidence level is at an all-time high.
“The great thing about Mike is it’s all positive. He’s not worried about when he gets to the big leagues. He’s not chomping at the bit to get there as far as checking the box scores everyday. He’s quietly confident. When he gets to the major league level, I think he knows he has a great chance to be successful.”
The question is when will he get that chance and where will it be? The Rangers are fortunate enough to have an All-Star third baseman in Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland -- when healthy -- is a solid first baseman.
“They want to make me more versatile and expand into some other positions, which I’m all for,” Olt said. “It helps me out, and it helps Texas out. It gives me more of an opportunity.”
Purpura said the Rangers had a discussion about Olt a few weeks ago. He hopes Olt gets to test the waters at the major league level this season, but he knows becoming a more versatile player is vital to make him more of an asset.
“When it came down to third base, Mike Olt was the unanimous choice that he would be the guy that would be ready to go to the big leagues right now and play third base,” Purpura said. “When the subject of first base came up, he was the choice again. He’s the guy people look to. Although he hasn’t had a lot of time at first, they look at him if it’s going to be a long-term deal that he would be the guy that could go there.
“The other thing we’ve talked about with him is that in the second half (of the season), do we get his feet wet a little bit in the outfield? That just opens up a lot of possibilities. At first and third, I think he would be everyone’s choice for the fill in guy.”
There are a wide variety of options available for Olt, and it’s not without warrant. Buechele sees him more than anyone, and he thinks Olt can play a number of positions.
“He’s going to play a lot of positions, and the more that he can play, the better for him and for the Rangers,” Buechele said. “He’s a baseball player and wherever you put him, he’ll be successful.”
There’s little doubt that Olt will make it to the major leagues at some point in the near future, but it’s impossible to guess when it will be. As he’s done all year long at the plate, Olt has to be patient.
“They just say to keep doing what I’m doing and things will work out,” Olt said. “It’s something that I’m not really worried about. It’s going to work out in the long run and there’s no need to rush it now.”
Olt has emerged as a top prospect with patience. So far, I think it’s safe to say that patience is paying off.