MESA, Ariz. – Ultimately, Kris Bryant is the Cubs’ future at third base for at least the next six – make that seven – years, right?
Take it to the bank. Right?
Except what if Mike Olt doesn’t give up the job?
Is it possible to get Wally Pipped before you ever play a game in the big leagues?
Since Bryant’s controversial, buzz-kill cut from big-league camp this week, it’s all just questions and speculation – over when he’ll get that heavily anticipated debut to even what position he’ll be playing when he does.
Meanwhile, take a look at the guy who finally emerged from Bryant’s immense spring training shadow and reacquainted himself with the Cubs’ Opening Day assignment at third.
Olt has quietly had one of the more productive, consistent performances in camp this month. His numbers don’t pop the way Bryant’s do, but he’s been steady all spring, hitting for power (three homers), drawing walks (eight) and producing a .974 OPS.
“It’s crazy to think about it, but I used to be one of those guys,” Olt said of the elite prospect-list guys like Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler. “And you forget about that. Now I’ve started feeling myself becoming that guy again. It makes baseball fun again.”
That was before a 2013 season dealing with concussion syndrome and vision issues and a 2014 of underachieving he blames in part on a poor approach.
“It feels a lot different,” said Olt, who hit 12 homers last year but also struck out 100 times in 225 at-bats and wound up demoted to AAA. “I feel like I’m back to the player that can really compete instead of a player that you hope is ready and you hope the swing is there. It’s a whole different feeling, a lot less stressful.”
Until that big Bryant shadow starts creeping back up on Olt. Or a little voice starts whispering, “Don’t get too comfortable.”
“I wouldn’t even go there,” said manager Joe Maddon, who likes what he’s seen from Olt at bat and in the field. “You look at our depth chart and it’s pretty outstanding. But I’m so focused on who’s there right now. My job is to get Mike Olt to stay there all season and play a lot, somehow.”
That’s part of why Bryant will keep working in left field as well as third base while at AAA. Olt might wind up out there at some point, too, if the Cubs want both bats in the lineup.
Until any of those possibilities arise, Bryant’s not around, or in Olt’s thinking, he said.
“He deserves all the hype he gets. He’s one of the best ones I’ve seen come up,” Olt said. “I’m just working on what I need to work on and it’s easy to focus on that when you’ve got a lot of things to work on from last year.”