An education: Adjustments key to Olt's growth
Cubs rookie third baseman learning to build confidence by trusting in abilities
BOSTON -- Did you know Mike Schmidt batted .196 in his first full season in the big leagues, striking out 136 times? Mike Olt knows that.
Olt knows teammate Anthony Rizzo scuffled in 2011, batting .141 when he was first called up to the Padres. Friends have sent Olt lists of Hall of Famers and others who have discovered big league baseball is tough.
"I've had a lot of people come up to me with their stories," Olt said. "A bunch of guys send me stuff and say, 'Hey, it's going to happen, you're going to get past it.' You've just got to believe that."
Still, that doesn't make the first half of this season any easier to stomach. Olt, 25, does lead all National League rookies in home runs (11) and is second in RBIs (27), and he fulfilled a dream Wednesday night, hitting a two-run homer over the Green Monster at Fenway Park in the Cubs' 16-9 romp over the Red Sox, but he's also first in strikeouts (72) and batting .150 overall. In June, he had two hits in 35 at-bats.
"The way I would sum up the first half is it's been a learning experience," Olt said, tucked in a cramped corner of the visitors' clubhouse at Fenway. "Baseball is a game of adjustments, and the first month, I thought I was able to come through in certain spots, and then pitchers started seeing me a little more, and I didn't make the adjustments needed.
"They're going to adjust to you, you've got to adjust back. You can't expect them to throw 2-0 heaters middle in. ... It's not always the Mike Trout story when you come up. That's why I think I put too much pressure on myself, and there were times when I let things get out of hand and there's a downward spiral. It's got to be something I'm managing, and I'll just make the adjustments as I go now."
Olt is the first Cubs rookie with 11 home runs in the first half of the season since Geovany Soto hit 16 prior to the All-Star break in 2008, when he won NL Rookie of the Year honors. Soto batted .285 that season.
"It all comes down to confidence," Olt said. "It's all about getting confidence back and just talking to the guys here and the stories they have, it gives you confidence. It's not always the glamour story of coming up and doing well. It's something that happens. As long as you know you belong, everything will work out."
Olt's been hyped since the Rangers made him a first-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. He was untouchable in 2012, when the Cubs tried to acquire him in the Ryan Dempster deal. But the Rangers were willing to include Olt in a package for Matt Garza at the Trade Deadline last year, puzzled by the third baseman's struggles after getting hit in the head.
The good news -- or bad news -- is that Olt isn't dealing with any leftover physical issues this year. The problem has been more mental, and those can be tougher to deal with. Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller said they're focusing on the positives, simplifying Olt's approach at the plate. It worked Wednesday, when he doubled and homered for his first career game with multiple extra-base hits.
"We all know how difficult it is and how much pressure you put on yourself and how much more pressure you put on yourself when you don't feel like you're doing what you're capable of doing," Mueller said.
"I feel I've gotten myself out," Olt said. "There hasn't been too many times when I came back and said I was overmatched. It's one of those things when I went up there with almost like 50 percent of a plan, instead of having a full plan and trusting it."
So, how does he get the other 50 percent with him at the plate?
"Trust it," Olt said. "You've got to trust that stuff you're seeing in the game and stuff you watch on film is going to happen. Sometimes I go up there with an approach and I go back to my old approach, and you sit there and think, 'Man, if I just stuck with that first approach, I'd be in a good spot.' Now, knowing that, it's something that now, I'm going to stick with it."
He's been thinking too much about his swing. Olt admits it. That's part of baseball. Everyone wants to go 4-for-4 every game.
"What I really should be focusing on is having four great at-bats, so even if I strike out, as long as I have a great at-bat, I still have a good approach," he said. "That's what I'm focused on for the next half -- and the results will come from that."
He takes deep breaths at the plate. He's trying not to overanalyze everything.
"You hear guys say, 'Hey, what did you do in high A, when there was no video?'" Olt said. "That's something that comes with growing and the next step."
The Cubs have No. 2 prospect Kris Bryant at Triple-A, although the front office has repeatedly said the third baseman will not be promoted to the big league team. Olt isn't thinking about Bryant. He's also ignoring fans who feel Olt should switch places with Bryant and go to the Minor Leagues.
"Everyone is going to struggle," Olt said. "You have to trust your stuff and make the adjustments. It's the only way you can get past this kind of thing."
It worked for Mike Schmidt.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.