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Caution on Mike Olt For 2012

Mike Olt! (I add the exclamation point not only out of exuberance at seeing his promotion to the majors, but mostly because I simply cannot hear his name without saying it like, well, this.) After an entire season of destroying Texas League pitching with a .427 wOBA, the soon-to-be 24-year-old top prospect made his debut for the Rangers on Thursday night, hitting eighth and playing first base.

There’s no shortage of excitement surrounding Olt, the 49th overall pick in 2010. Regarded as a fine defensive third baseman, his 28 homers were second in the minors behind only Royals prospect Wil Myers, and so it’s no surprise that when teams were offering pitchers like Zack Greinke and Josh Johnson to the Rangers at the deadline, Olt was the name they all were after, along with Jurickson Profar. Given what rough shape third base is in around the bigs these days, it’s not hard to see why a power bat who can actually field the position was in such high demand, and Texas understandably refused to part with him.

Unfortunately for Olt, Texas happens to have one of the few third basemen playing at a high level on both sides of the ball, and Adrian Beltre isn’t going anywhere for a while. That’s why Olt began to see time at first base and right field as his time in the minors began to wear down, though it’s being reported that Olt would play the outfield “only in an emergency situation” for the Rangers at this point. Other than the occasional day off for Beltre, Olt’s role is expected to be limited to first base and designated hitter, mainly against lefty pitching.

That’s a pretty narrow role for a young player, though one would hope that if Olt performs early, additional playing time will follow. Michael Young has been awful while playing first and DH, and Mitch Moreland is hardly someone who stands in the way of a talented young player. It does, however, potentially position him for early success, given that he was pounding lefties in Double-A this year to a .272/.422/.598 (1.020) line. On the other hand, we’ve seen managers reluctant to take playing time away from an established veteran in order to play a newcomer before, and we’ve especially seen how the opinion of Young seems counter-intuitive to what his his stat line may say, so it’s hard to say with certainty just how much of an opportunity Olt will get for now.

If there is a worry about Olt other than his potentially sporadic playing time, it’s his propensity for striking out. Even in Double-A, he was striking out 24% of the time, and it’s hard to see that not going up somewhat in the majors. In addition, he’s never managed a .300 average in the minors and isn’t expected to provide a particularly high batting average in the bigs, though his above-average ability to take a walk (16.4% and 14.5% over the last two years) plus unquestionable power should help mitigate that somewhat.

Olt is undeniably talented, and he’s clearly in the long-term plans of the Rangers since they refused to let go of him at the deadline to add pieces for this season. Given the concerns about what his role will be over the next two months as the Rangers push towards the playoffs, it’s difficult to recommend Olt as a “must-have” in shallow mixed or redraft leagues. Anyone in keeper leagues should obviously be eager to add him, of course, and very deep or AL-only redraft leagues may want to take a flyer, especially if injuries or ineffectiveness have made third base a problem.