Mike Olt had a strong Spring Training for the Chicago Cubs. The team wanted him to win the starting third-base job, and with some long home runs and impressive at-bats, he did it.

Ever since the team headed North to open the regular season, though, Olt has gone about the task of giving the gig back to Luis Valbuena. Olt is hitting .156/.214/.359, with strikeouts in over a third of his plate appearances.

Where do his problems lie? Right here:


Some swing and miss has always been a part of the scouting report on Olt, but the feeling was that his combination of power and plate discipline would allow him to thrive, anyway. That’s not happening thus far. Olt is swinging only slightly more than the league average at pitches outside the zone, but when he does chase, he’s only making contact with 39.5 percent of his swings. That’s worse than any qualified hitter this side of Chris Carter, and even Carter had a (league-worst) contact rate over 45 percent on pitches out of the zone in 2013.

There are two ways to spin that. One is that such a preposterously low number is sure to correct itself, that Olt must still be fighting vision issues or extreme rust. The best support for that hypothesis is that Olt has made something like an average amount of contact within the strike zone, which Carter and his ilk don’t even approach.

The other, more sinister possibility is that Olt has a real, untenable lack of ability to read and adjust to breaking balls. Unfortunately, that theory has stronger objective support. Olt’s 70 plate appearances are enough to begin to expect that his chase and whiff rates reflect a real and obdurate aspect of his approach. It’s also unnerving to see how frequently he chases those bad pitches low and away. His reputation for patience says that if he was recognizing those at all, he’d be laying off.

Olt turns 26 in August. Players rarely make significant developmental strides after that milestone. There’s no reason for the Cubs to pull the plug now–Olt offers substantial potential reward as a counterbalance to the risk of continued implosion. Besides, with all three of the team’s Triple-A infield prospects off to bad starts, no one’s really knocking down the door in pursuit of his job. It won’t surprise me, though, if Olt’s promise goes unfulfilled, and he ends up a platoon or bench player for the long haul, his tenure as a starting third baseman over by August.

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