Late last night, we received word of Mike Olt's imminent promotion to the majors, and after discussing that move and its potential impact both before and after it actually occurred, we now have word this afternoon from FSNSW's Emily Jones that Olt will make his major league debut tonight, batting eighth and playing first base.
It has been widely assumed that the Rangers made this call because they felt they could derive immediate value at the major league level from Olt, because they felt that he was 'ready' (at least in the sense that he had utterly demolished Double-A pitching, and that there wasn't too much more he could pick up developmentally at that level), and also because they had designs on actually playing him;, in that regard, it's encouraging to see him get the start right away against a lefty-hurling C.J. Wilson.
We've talked about how bringing Olt up is a calculated risk that the Rangers are wise to take, as they're killing several birds with one stone by introducing a bat with the potential to make some offensive noise into the mix (the chances of that improve if/when they become more willing to reallocate Michael Young's playing time to Mike Olt), someone who boasts more two-way upside than Brandon Snyder did and gives your bench/defensive flexibility a measure boost as the Rangers prepare to embark down the stretch run towards October ... but there's one question that we haven't seriously delved into yet, and it's that question is, what does Olt give you from an offensive standpoint right now?
Obviously, this isn't a sure thing as far as bolstering the Rangers' run production; his offensive skill set runs deep, but, as Jason Parks says, he's "a bit susceptible to pitches that are soft and spinning," with the kind of profile that's going to result in an abundance of swings and misses, and while there is huge offensive talent in the package and a history of upper-minors success, the reality is that he's a rookie. Sometimes rookies hit, but sometimes rookies flounder, and that's the case whether you're talking about an average or good or great -- this is the tier where Olt falls, I think -- or elite prospect. In that regard, I feel that Jason Cole made some incisive points in his Olt scouting report as far as how the first two months of Olt's major league career might play out:
Once his scouting report gets around, Olt could begin to see a steady diet of breaking balls, and pitchers will likely begin working him down and away with fastballs. That's what he struggled with at times in the minors, but Double- and Triple-A pitching isn't able to expose it with any consistency––it's an adjustment he'll need to make against major league arms. ... Olt will have to make the adjustment eventually, but he has the ability and aptitude to do so. ... The question is how quickly that cycle, which is normal for any rookie hitter, comes around.
That last sentence is the real key to unlocking the mystery of Olt's rest-of-2012 offensive expectation, I think. Dan Szymborski's rest-of-season ZiPS projection on Olt has him down at .237/.320/.414 with six home runs the rest of the way (assuming, of course, that he receives everyday playing time, which messes up the homer projection but shouldn't materially affect the triple-slash projection), and I think that's a reasonable bar to set, but we're talking about a small sample of plate appearances over just a couple of months, and a very wide range of expected outcomes.
If the BABIP gods fondly smile down upon him and the adjustment cycle develops in such a way that pitchers don't figure him out right away, he could be an .800-plus OPS hit with the ability to provide immediate offensive punch against lefty or righty pitchers. If, however they develop an adequate scouting report on him quickly, force him to make that adjustment in relatively short order, and he's not expeditious in throwing his counterpunches ... then, yeah, this could be a disappointing two-month run. And as if all of the variance stemming from the fact that he's a rookie being summoned into a small-sample situation weren't enough, you also have to account for the fact that Olt needs to hit sooner rather than later, because, otherwise, the playing time may not be there later.
I'm excited that this call-up happened, because, frankly, I believe that it needed to happen, and I'm excited that Olt is actually going to play ... but this is not a preordained slam dunk. If you can come to terms with that, and if you can acknowledge the factors that may or may not render this an immediate success, you're far more likely to come away satisfied with how Olt performs during the remainder of the 2012 season than if you expect him to function as this ballclub's rookie panacea.
5:30 p.m. update: Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has a few notes on how Ron Washington intends to deploy Olt at the outset of his big league career, and indicates that Olt will get his "fair share" of playing time in the big leagues, as he'll start against left-handed pitchers at either first base or designated hitter (per Washington), and will also get some time at third base, "possibly against right-handers," when Adrian Beltre ends up DHing.
This is encouraging, but it's also a little strange when taken at face value, because part of the appeal of Olt is that he isn't a platoon bat -- sure, he hits opposite-handed pitchers better than same-handed pitchers (which is very often the case), but the split isn't extreme, and, ideally, you utilize him in such a way that he gets semi-regular playing time against starting pitchers of either dexterity. With that said, though, there is probably also some motivation to ease Olt into the mix and put him in a position to succeed early on by maximizing his exposure against lefties, so, from that standpoint, I don't have a problem with the framework of this plan.
But if you're talking about expected production, the easiest and most efficient way that you can enhance this lineup right now is by scaling back Young's playing time against right-handers, against whom he has posted a sub-.600 OPS this season ... and if we roll back to this situation a month from now, and find that Olt is only playing occasionally against right-handers while Young doesn't lose any playing time whatsoever to right-handers, then that's going to be disappointing.