Olt Finds His Groove In Return To Myrtle Beach
As a child, Mike Olt and his family would often vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., to escape the weather in Connecticut and enjoy the beach.
Now, Olt is enjoying Myrtle Beach again, but it is no vacation. Olt is spending his first full professional season playing in Myrtle Beach, the new home of the Rangers high Class A affiliate.
And, while high Class A can be a difficult test, Olt is making the Carolina League look like a vacation. He started his first full season of professional baseball hitting .400/.700/.850 in the first six games of the season. The 49th overall draft pick last June has cooled off somewhat from his dominant opening week, but is still hitting .344/.446/.607 through 16 games this season.
Olt, 22, knows his numbers won't stay in the stratosphere for the whole season, so he's trying to remember how it feels to swing the bat this way. That way, if he does get in a slump, he can work himself out of it.
"You can't hit .400 plus the whole year," Olt said. "Trying to keep your confidence up is the main thing. If I can limit the slump from 40 at-bats to 20 at-bats and get back on track, that's a way to keep everything going smoothly."
His hard work already has paid off this season. Pelicans manager Jason Wood cited Olt's work ethic as one of the main reasons for his success this season.
"I think it started from day one in spring training," Wood said. "He goes about his business in a professional way, but also in having fun. He works his tail off in batting practice and practice."
Coming out of Connecticut last year, Olt was known more for his defense than his offensive prowess. His defense continues to impress—"In all honesty, I haven't seen a third baseman in the minor league system that comes and gets the slow roller better than Mike Olt," Wood said— but now his offense is starting to become more of an attraction. In college, he had raw power, but at times truggled to hit for average. That changed after the draft last summer when the Rangers widened his stance at the plate, giving him more balance and a shorter swing.
Olt has since tinkered with the stance a little bit more, trying to find the best and most comfortable solution. He said it took a while for him to master the stance, but the change has been a good one.
"Last year I was trying to find a happy medium," Olt said. "I knew it would take a while to get comfortable with. It's helping out a lot."
Rangers farm director Scott Servais said the organization worked with Olt on his altered swing at instructional league. When Olt reported to spring training, Servais was pleased with the results.
"We saw a difference right away," Servais said. "He made what we asked him to make."
Wood didn't get to see Olt play in the short-season Northwest League last summer, when he hit .293/.390/.464 with 16 doubles and nine home runs in 263 at-bats for Spokane. But from what he's heard, Wood says that Olt seems to be chasing fewer pitches. It is progress that Wood is very happy to see in a young player, especially one with as much physical ability as Olt.
"His power is there," Wood said. "He's got power to all fields and tremendous power in the gaps. From what I've seen so far his biggest growth is his capability to lay off pitches he swung at last year, which is offspeed (pitches) in the dirt."
The ability to be more selective at the plate is a key step in Olt's development, especially as he progresses to higher levels of the minor leagues.
"Controlling the strike zone is a key for a young hitter like himself who's got some power," Servais said. "As you move up the ladder, the pitching gets better and you've got to be able to control (the strike zone) because pitchers want you to expand it."
A Taste Of The Big Leagues
Like many teams, the Rangers bring minor leaguers into spring training games during the late innings, usually long after the starters have left. After Adrian Beltre was injured early in spring training, Texas had a few more opportunities for third basemen in the system.
Olt saw action in seven games, making 10 plate appearances. He played well, hitting .400/.400/.800. One at-bat, however, stands out above the rest. With the Rangers trailing the Reds 5-4 in the ninth inning, Olt came to the plate to face reliever Daryl Thompson. Olt hit a home run, his first in a big league game—even if it was just spring training—tying the game.
"I'm not going to forget how that feels," Olt said.
Olt's time in big league camp was short and the sample size was far too small to evaluate, but the experience did provide him with confidence that he has carried into the season. Olt's entire body of work in spring training did show Servais enough to validate Texas selecting him with the 49th overall pick last June.
"He did have a good spring training and proved our scouting department right," Servais said.
Now, Olt must work to continue to improve. With only eight teams in the Carolina League, opponents will be able to adjust the way they pitch to him. Servais is very interested in watching how Olt responds when teams begin attacking him in new ways.
"There's consistency in his approach with the bat," Servais said. "If that's going to be there, then you have a guy who could move through the system very quickly."