By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — The most routine of spring training drills welcomed peace of mind for Mike Olt. A promising future appeared clear once again.
Standing in for morning batting practice, the first pitch came toward the plate, and Olt spotted it. He sized it up and put forth a powerful swing. Normalcy had returned to the Cubs’ third baseman after an offseason of uncertainty.
A former first-round pick of the Texas Rangers, Olt saw his promising track to the big leagues come to a sudden halt one year ago. His lacrimal gland wasn’t producing tears, and it caused a depth perception problem. Olt couldn’t see the ball coming in often above 90 miles per hour. Spotting even the easiest of batting practice pitches was difficult.
Each batting practice swing this spring fostered comfort for Olt. He was back on track for success.
“After that long offseason of not knowing, to have that happen, that built my confidence,” Olt said.
With his future once uncertain, Olt was one of four prospects dealt from Texas to Chicago last July. Outsider expectations weren’t high for Olt, but now he looks to be a steal for the Cubs.
The Cubs’ management has made it clear to Olt that he could be the club’s third baseman of the future. At just 25, his best baseball should lie ahead. This is yet another confidence builder.
“That’s huge,” Olt said. “Just listening to (team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer) and their plan, and that I can be a part of that, it’s exciting for me. It makes me want to work harder and do everything I can to be part of that plan.”
Greater reward for the Cubs’ diligence could come down the road. Management believed Olt could be a key part of the team’s rebuilding process, and the early returns have been promising, though he’s struggling to hit for average.
“I’m just happy for him,” Hoyer said. “It takes a lot of mental toughness to go through what he did last year and bounce back from it. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t rooting for him to bounce all the way back all the way, both as a Cub and as a person.”
Part of Olt’s newfound confidence is conveyed during struggles, not just the triumphs. He has started the season with just three hits and is stuck in a platoon at third base. Yet, he isn’t letting the sluggish, 3-of-19 start get to him.
Olt realizes the ups and downs of a 162-game baseball season. The personal battles of last year altered his perspective of the game. Now, he sees the game in a different light.
“I was always a headcase when it came to the early part of the season,” Olt said. “That comes as you mature as a baseball player. Now, you look at the big picture. You’re going to have ups and downs. It’s just a matter of getting comfortable and not worrying about the numbers.”
The constant calmness, a certainty to each day, is something Cubs manager Rick Renteria admires about Olt. Even through the adversity he’s been dealt, the third baseman keeps a cool mindset.
“(Olt) brings good energy, good presence,” Renteria said. “He’s very calm, has a great demeanor. He has a chance, over an extended period of time, that could impact us with the stick. Hopefully he does.”
It has all come back for Olt. He blasted a home run in the Cubs’ first series at Pittsburgh, then hit his second on Wednesday night, a blast to the left-field bleachers.
The game feels different for Olt after a year of getting back on track. Yet, his poise remains the same.
“My confidence is great,” Olt said. “I’m definitely feeling a lot more comfortable. I’m way more relaxed. I’ve got to let me natural abilities take over and go from there.”
All Olt can do now is keep his eyes focused forward. The future appears clear once again.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmmaScout.