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Newberg Report: Olt accelerating aggressively

Newberg Report: Olt accelerating aggressively

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Newberg Report: Olt accelerating aggressively
Part 3 in a season-long series projecting a hypothetical 25-man roster made up solely of prospects from the Texas Rangers minor league system.

Maybe the reason Mike Olt didn't generate lots of fanfare after Texas made him a supplemental first-round pick last June was that the club had already taken three players before him.

Maybe it was because he played collegiately in the relative obscurity of Big East baseball.

Most likely, however, it's because in recent years when the Rangers, who put such a premium on targeting up-the-middle talent, have locked in on a third baseman early in the draft, they've had about as much success as the Dallas Cowboys have had drafting offensive linemen.

The Rangers' 2005 second-rounder, Johnny Whittleman, is now a first baseman -- and a Royals farmhand. Their 2007 second-rounder, Matt West, is undergoing a transition to pitcher. Their 2009 second-rounder, Tommy Mendonca, struggled last year in his first full pro season (though he's gotten off to an encouraging start with Class Double-A Frisco this month).

Jamey Newberg's hypothetical 25-man roster made up of Rangers prospects
No. 1 starter: Martin Perez
No. 2 starter: David Perez
No. 3 starter: Neil Ramirez
No. 4 starter: Cody Buckel
No.5 starter: Luke Jackson
Long reliever: Barret Loux
Right-on-right: Johan Yan
Left-on-left: Joseph Ortiz
7th-inn. reliever: Justin Grimm
RH setup: Roman Mendez
LH setup: Robbie Ross
Closer: Tanner Scheppers
Catcher: Jorge Alfaro
First baseman: Chris Davis
Second baseman: Luis Sardinas
Shortstop: Jurickson Profar
Third baseman: Mike Olt
Left fielder: Engel Beltre
Center fielder: Leonys Martin
Right fielder: Nomar Mazara
Designated hitter: Ronald Guzman
Backup catcher: Kellin Deglan
Utility IFer: Leury Garcia
Corner IFer: Christian Villanueva
Fourth outfielder: Jordan Akins

The last drafted third baseman to make it in Texas was 2004 10th-rounder Travis Metcalf, who now plays in the independent leagues. Before that? Mark Teixeira in 2001.

Teixeira actually saw less big league time for Texas at third base (15 games) than he did in the outfield (32 games). Still, Olt may play fewer Ranger games at the hot corner than Teixeira did, but that's primarily because at this rate, he's going to be ready for the Major Leagues long before Adrian Beltre's contract is up, and may have more value to the franchise as a trade piece than as an insurance policy at third base.

Texas has pushed Olt aggressively, assigning him to High Class A in his first full pro season just as it did nine years ago with Teixeira. To be fair, Olt isn't nearly the premier, "can't miss" prospect that Teixeira was, but there are a couple aspects to his game that are nearly as advanced as Teixeira's were at a similar stage.

Olt was considered by Baseball America to be the No. 3 defensive player -- at any position -- in the 2010 Draft, and at 49th overall he was the third corner infielder selected in the first round (following fellow third basemen Zack Cox [St. Louis] and Nick Castellanos [Detroit]). Scouts praised his glove and his arm, his footwork and his range, viewing his defense as big league quality.

There were some questions about the bat, however. Olt was a prolific power hitter in college, but with holes in his swing. In 410 at-bats between his sophomore and junior seasons, he hit 31 home runs but struck out 99 times. The profile played out after Olt signed last summer, as he played terrific defense at Spokane and went deep nine times in 69 games, but fanned 77 times in 263 at-bats.

After a strong showing in Surprise this spring, Olt was challenged with an aggressive two-level jump to Myrtle Beach, and he's rewarded the organization with a tremendous start. The 22-year-old had 23 hits -- including 10 extra-base hits -- in his first 17 games, hitting .359, and he led the Carolina League with a .462 on-base percentage. But he did strike out 18 times in 64 at-bats.

Like Olt, Teixeira began his first full pro season in High Class A, but needed only six weeks at that level before a promotion to Double-A, where he spent fewer than two months before reaching the Major Leagues for good. Nothing but Teixeira's own development timetable stood in the way of his arrival. Olt is not on that type of path. There are still issues to be worked out offensively, and a formidable roadblock at third base in Arlington.

But we're talking about a player who is not only in the lineup every day in High Class A less than a year removed from college ball, but one who is also among the league's most productive hitters early on, not to mention one of its most polished defenders.

Circumstances may be such that Olt is one of the Rangers' prospects most likely to be traded in the next few years, but given the organization's recent track record drafting and developing third basemen, if Texas does end up flipping Olt in a trade for a significant piece of the puzzle somewhere else on the field, it will qualify as an unquestionable success.

Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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