Cautious approach with Olt is misguided

ST. LOUIS -- On Wednesday, Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer defended how the team has used third baseman Mike Olt through the first six weeks of the season.

Despite leading the team in home runs, Olt isn't an everyday player. Including Thursday's game against the Cardinals, Olt has started 24 of the team's 39 games.

Heading into the contest, Olt is batting .187 but with eight home runs. There may not be a right or wrong answer to this question, because we'll never know if Olt would be better now or in the future if he played more or less. Conventional thinking for young players is they need to play every day for a variety of reasons. Experience, confidence and getting to know pitchers are just a few of those reasons. I believe Olt would be further along in his development if he was handed the job and played more.

Let's analyze the Cubs' reasoning:

Reason 1: "The guy [Luis Valbuena] that we play there, when [Olt is] not is a really good player," Hoyer said. "I think he's underappreciated."

Analysis: Valbuena does give the Cubs a good at-bat, but should it be at the expense of Olt learning the league? The bottom line is one player has a chance to play every day in his career -- or at least deserves the opportunity -- and the other is a career platoon or backup guy. We know about Valbuena; this season is about finding out about some other players, such as Olt.

Reason 2: "I saw something on the way in today," Hoyer said. "The Oakland A's, they're getting Miguel Cabrera-like performance out of their catchers with Derek Norris with John Jaso just strict platooning. If one of those guys was a prospect and the other wasn't, would the fans be going crazy because one guy wasn't playing enough?"

Analysis: What Hoyer fails to enter into his reasoning is the place in the baseball world that the A's are currently in, as well as his own team. Oakland is a contending team, and getting even a 1 percent edge every day is important. If platooning their catchers does that, then so be it. If the Cubs were interested in winning every day in 2014, they would have more talent on the team. Even if Valbuena is a slightly better option against a certain pitcher, it shouldn't come at Olt's expense. How will we know if he can hit righties if he doesn't face them? This is the time to find out and, more importantly, let him learn.

Reason 3: "I think Ricky's done a nice job with Mike," Hoyer said. "He's given him off some matchups he thought he might struggle with."

Analysis: There's something to be said about getting a few days off against the toughest righties in the game just as lefties take their days off against the toughest lefties. But sitting 15 times by mid-May seems a bit extreme in the matchup department.

Summation: "I get it," Hoyer said. "I think people are excited to see him. People love home runs, so it's fun when he's in the lineup. I want him to play, too, but I also think matching him up and finding the right matchups and making sure there's days when you want Valbuena in the lineup. There's days you want [Darwin] Barney in the lineup because he's easily our best defender.

"Frankly it's probably helped Mike over the long haul, adjusting to the big leagues and getting comfortable here."

Analysis: Again, this comes down to trying to win a game that day, and even though it's mid-May, the Cubs are well out of the race already, so doing what's best for their young prospects might be the better route. In fact, the best solution, considering Valbuena isn't a bad offensive or defensive player, is to simply platoon him and Barney at second and let Olt play nearly every day. Problem solved.