Results tagged ‘ Mike Olt ’
You grew up watching baseball on TV with your father. Then you played Little League, and your dad was the coach. Later, he started taking you to games, making sure the two of you got there extra early so you could snatch a few stray home run balls during batting practice.
For generations, baseball has been bringing fathers and sons together. Chances are, when you became an adult and had a son of your own, you tried to get him into baseball, coached his Little League team and took him to games too.
To celebrate Father’s Day this month, Vine Line caught up with a few Cubs players to discuss the almost mystical connection the game engenders. Though each person may have attached to the sport in a different way, there’s no denying baseball served as a valuable link between fathers and sons—just like it has in the past and will in the future.
Ryan Sweeney and his dad, Gary
“I think baseball is definitely, of any of the sports, the bonding thing between father and son, especially now that I have a son,” said Cubs outfielder Ryan Sweeney. “Sharing that with him is something that brings [us] closer together.”
Ryan credits his dad, Gary, for the success he’s had in the game, especially early in his life. Gary always pushed his son to excel, even if that meant making him do some extra work when the younger Sweeney wasn’t fully invested.
“My dad pushed me pretty hard to get me where I’m at,” Ryan said. “I might not have liked it at the time, but looking back, I’m glad he pushed me the way he did. He was my coach growing up for a lot of the time too. He never played baseball, but he tried to read up and learn as much as he could so he could teach me to do the right things.”
When Ryan finally did break into the major leagues, Gary happened to be visiting his son in Charlotte (home of the White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate). Ryan was at the stadium when he got the news and promptly called his parents. Though they didn’t believe him at first, they ultimately made the trip to Kansas City to see Ryan put on a major league uniform for the first time.
Despite having spent the majority of the last seven years at the game’s highest level, Ryan said he still shares the occasional instruction-filled phone call with his father.
“He tries to tell me what to do now, still, and how to play,” Ryan joked. “He’s constantly watching games on TV, saving my games, watching my swings, everything.”
Justin Grimm and his dad, Mark
When Justin Grimm graduated from junior high, he was faced with a difficult athletic decision. Both soccer and baseball were played in the same high school season, so he was forced to choose between the two. Though Justin was ready to put away the glove and bat for good, his dad, Mark, wasn’t in favor of the idea.
“He definitely leaned me toward baseball,” Justin said. “I thought I was a better soccer player at the time than I was baseball. He didn’t say, ‘You’re not playing soccer,’ but he did [say it] at the same time.
“He was a football fan, he loved football. He played at East Tennessee State in college, and he had a love for football, especially when I was growing up. Even to when I was 9, I was playing football, and I think it kind of crushed him when I definitely decided I wasn’t going to play anymore.”
Despite straying from his dad’s favorite sport, Justin said his father always supported his decisions and was somebody he could confide in growing up—even on topics he wouldn’t discuss with his close friends.
“[He] helped keep me encouraged, always feeding me positive thoughts instead of the negative ones,” Justin said. “He was pretty good with that growing up. Him and my mom both. They kept me on the right path, kept me going in the right direction, helped me stay into the right things and out of the wrong things.”
These days, the reliever said he gets a kick out of how excited his dad gets when he visits the clubhouse or throws the ball around with Justin in a major league outfield.
“He enjoys it probably 200 times more than I do,” Justin said. “He loves just going places, especially to different [venues]. Every time he comes into town, he wants to go see the park and what I do every day. And he wants to go to the team shop and get a bunch of gear, so he can support me back home. He’s definitely one of my biggest fans.”
James Russell and his dad, Jeff
Though James Russell is the son of former big league closer Jeff Russell, there was never any pressure for him to follow in his father’s footsteps. Still, between playing baseball every day and spending countless afternoons and nights in major league locker rooms growing up, the left-hander quickly formed an affinity for the game.
“He never really pressured me into it,” James said of his father, who spent 14 seasons in the majors, including 10 with the Rangers. “It was just something that I was good at, and I enjoyed playing. I loved all sports. I played everything growing up—football, basketball and baseball being the bigger three of the sports.
“Fortunately, I grew up in clubhouses that are a little bigger than ours at Wrigley, but it was fun getting into trouble. There were always a bunch of other kids that I [got] to hang out with. We’d find our ways and [make] little batting cages and stuff, so we could just mess around until security came and kicked us out.”
As James got older, he’d go to the ballpark virtually every day with his dad. While the Cubs reliever credits those trips for stoking his desire to play professional ball, he also knows how important those moments were for his father.
“That was some of the most memorable stuff out of his career,” James said.
With the roles now reversed, James has been informed his dad can be a tough guy to watch a game with.
“I’ve always heard he’s a real nervous guy whenever I’m throwing,” Russell said. “He can never sit down in a seat. He’s always walking around. He’s usually drinking a couple of beers to ease his nerves. If he’s not around a TV, he’s got it on his phone.”
John Baker and his dad, Dave
Entering Spring Training, journeyman catcher John Baker was on the outside looking in when it came to finding a spot on the Cubs’ 25-man roster. However, after a strong preseason showing in which he consistently provided outstanding effort, the North Siders found room for the 33-year-old backstop. Baker can thank his dad, Dave, for his solid work ethic.
“He was the biggest baseball influence I had [growing up],” John said. “There are still a lot of things I think in my head that my dad told me. His favorite line was ‘It takes no talent to hustle.’ That was his favorite thing to say. That … and ‘The most important position is the ready position.’
“He was always about being prepared, hustling and playing the game the right way—developing a strong work ethic. I got to see that as a kid, watching him go to work every single day. He’d get up with me at five in the morning and flip me baseballs in the side yard.”
Though many people were surprised to see John make the team over veteran free agent George Kottaras, one person never doubted it for a second.
“When I called [my dad] and told him I made the team here, he told me, ‘Son, I believed you were going to make the team, so two weeks ago, I went ahead and bought a ticket to Chicago,’ which was a really cool, validating feeling for me, knowing that he really believed in me without even telling me,” John said.
Dave played a lot of baseball growing up, so he had a good idea of how much effort it was going to take to make a career out of the game.
“There were days where I didn’t want to go [out to the field to practice], where he made me go,” John said. “And there were days where he came home from work, and I probably said, ‘Dad, can you throw me some balls?’ and he kind of went, ‘Yeah, let me take you to the batting cage. Let’s go do it.’ So it was give and take, but I was never turned down.”
Mike Olt and his dad, George
Early in Mike Olt’s career, his father, George, served as a sort of “baseball whisperer” for his son. As a former college player, the elder Olt had spent a fair amount of time around the diamond and knew a thing or two about the game. But if there was one thing he knew better than baseball, it was Mike.
“He knows I’m a head case, so he usually would tell me one little thing, which I probably wasn’t doing any differently [anyway],” Mike said. “Like, ‘Hey, raise your hands’ or something small that meant nothing.
“But he knew that was the only thing I’d think about and not what the pitcher was throwing. Next thing you know, I’m 4-for-4, 4-for-5, it was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Mike grew up in Connecticut, listening to his dad tell stories about traveling to Yankee Stadium with his own father. Years later, Mike enjoyed taking those same trips to the Bronx with George.
“We always went to a ton of games at Yankee Stadium, me and him,” Mike said. “Those are the kind of memories you don’t forget.”
These days, the third baseman enjoys bringing his dad with him to Wrigley Field as often as possible. When Mike made his major league debut with the Rangers in 2012, George was in attendance, and his excitement was something Mike will never forget.
“Those are experiences that he’s going to be really proud of, and he’ll remember those forever,” Mike said. “I would do anything for him, anything for my family. To have him at the game and watching the highlights, seeing him and how happy he is, it does make me really happy. It’s kind of cool to see how excited he is for me and what’s to come.”
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty)
The Cubs helped Rick Renteria to his first win as a major league manager Thursday, behind a strong effort from veteran right-hander Jason Hammel. The new Cubs starter, who signed a one-year, $6 million deal in February, limited the Pirates to one run and two hits over 6.2 innings and struck out five.
Cubs third baseman Mike Olt, acquired last season in the Matt Garza trade with the Rangers and making his third start, hit his first major league home run in the second inning off Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez. With a thin bullpen following last night’s marathon 16-inning loss, Pedro Strop closed the door in the ninth to preserve the 3-2 victory.
The Cubs return to Chicago tonight and open the home slate at Wrigley Field against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday at 1:20 CST.
Welington Castillo was one of 19 players to agree to a deal with the Cubs Monday afternoon. (Image by Stephen Green)
The Cubs have come to terms with 19 players on their 40-man roster with zero-to-three years of major league service time. The terms of the contracts were not disclosed.
The players who have reached agreements include right-handed pitchers Jake Arrieta, Dallas Beeler, Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Blake Parker, Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon and Arodys Vizcaino; left-handed pitchers Zac Rosscup and Chris Rusin; catcher Welington Castillo; infielders Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva and Logan Watkins; and outfielders Brett Jackson, Junior Lake, Matt Szczur and Josh Vitters.
When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took the Cubs’ reins in 2011, they talked about building the system the right way from the ground up and rejuvenating the franchise with young, cost-controlled talent. In the years since, the Cubs have gathered some of the best minor league players in the game, including top 10 prospects Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. ESPN prospect guru Keith Law had the Cubs ranked as the fourth-best farm system in baseball, and Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks put the club second behind only the Astros.
Vine Line sat down with some of the best young talent in baseball this week to talk about their experience in big league camp, goals for the upcoming season and creating momentum in the minor leagues.
We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park all week long, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.
Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:
Infielder Arismendy Alcantara could see time at Wrigley Field this year.
(Photo by Rodger Wood)
For many Chicagoans, February means cold weather. At Vine Line, it’s all about the Cubs minor league prospectus. In the February issue, fans can check out frequent contributor Sahadev Sharma’s player breakdowns for more than 45 of the organization’s top prospects, from teenagers like Eloy Jimenez to elite talents like Javier Baez. We’ll post some of the profiles here on the blog in the coming weeks so you can keep track of all the names to know in the Cubs highly ranked system.
Also From the Series
2014 Minor League Prospectus- The Elite
Close to the Big Leagues
“The most important currency in the game right now, from a baseball standpoint, is either massive amounts of payroll flexibility or a real surplus of above-average young players who are major league ready or already making an impact in the big leagues,” said baseball president Theo Epstein at last December’s Winter Meetings.
Epstein admitted the Cubs aren’t where they want to be in either area, but said when it comes to the latter, they’ve taken the appropriate steps to get there soon. The front office has drafted well and made smart trades. As these prospects continue to develop and get closer to the majors, Epstein said, “They’re infinitely more valuable, to us and potentially in a trade, than they are while they’re working away in the farm system.”
Though none of the organization’s upper-tier players will be ready to start next season in the majors, there are several others who could make an appearance at Wrigley Field at some point in 2014. The Cubs may not compete for a division title this summer, but some prized young talent will likely provide a glimpse of just how good this team could be in the near future.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: TENNESSEE
2013 STATS: .271/.352/.451 (133 GAMES)
After spending much of his career at shortstop, Alcantara shifted to second base when Baez was moved up to Tennessee. He is solid with the glove, but his real value comes on offense. The switch-hitting leadoff man is one of the more dynamic players in the organization, with a rare speed-and-power combination to go along with on-base skills and the ability to play in the middle of the field.
A hot start to the season earned him a spot in the Futures Game, but the Dominican tapered off a bit in the second half. With a tremendous amount of ability and strong makeup, Alcantara has what it takes to excel in the majors, but the Cubs brass want to be sure he can perform consistently throughout the season before he gets the call to Wrigley.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: TENNESSEE
2013 STATS: 54.2 IP, 3.13 ERA, 35 K, 17 BB (9 STARTS)
A finger injury cut short Beeler’s 2013 season, but he looked good when he was on the mound and built on that success in the AFL. With his velocity ticking up to 94 mph and a newly developed cutter—which helped him fend off lefties, previously his bugaboo—Beeler looked like a new man. He doesn’t miss a lot of bats, but rather relies on his defense, inducing ground balls by staying low in the zone with impressive sinking action on his pitches.
Beeler was added to the 40-man roster to keep from losing him in the Rule 5 draft, something that was a legitimate concern after his impressive AFL performance. As a big, physical strike thrower who knows how to pitch, he fits the bill for what the Cubs are looking for in an arm.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: IOWA
2013 STATS: .210/.296/.330 (95 GAMES)
It was just a few years ago that Jackson was supposed to join Starlin Castro on the big league roster and light up the North Side with his immense talents. The Cal-Berkeley product didn’t get his chance until the summer of 2012 and struggled mightily with his strikeout rate. After the season, Jackson worked hard on his swing in an effort to reduce the whiffs, but early on, nothing changed.
“He came into Spring Training, and I think when the results weren’t there right away, he probably started pressing a little bit,” McLeod said. “When he went to Iowa, he got off to a slow start. The strikeouts started piling up again, and then unfortunately he got nicked up and missed quite a bit of time before he came back.”
When he returned to action, the Cubs sent him to Double-A, where his struggles continued. But the organization hasn’t given up on Jackson, who, from a physical standpoint, can do a lot of things not many others can do on a baseball field. Given a fresh start, the team hopes he can put a horrendous 2013 season behind him and somehow reduce his swing-and-miss tendencies. His combination of power, speed and defense could definitely come in handy for a major league club searching for high-end talent in the outfield.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: IOWA
2013 STATS: .201/.303/.381 (107 GAMES)
Olt is another third baseman who may end up at Triple-A. Once deemed untouchable in the Texas organization, he found himself battling eye issues last season as his prospect status tumbled. He was ultimately swapped with other players for Matt Garza. The two keys for Olt will be putting his poor season in the rearview mirror and finding whatever it is he needs to take care of his vision problems.
Like Vitters, Olt will be moved around the field to increase his value, playing his normal third base, along with some first base and corner outfield. He strikes out a lot, but when he’s right, the whiffs are mitigated by his plus power and ability to take a walk. He is also an excellent defender at third. The Cubs would love nothing more than for Olt to come into camp healthy and hitting, and stake a claim to the big league third-base job early on.
HIGHEST 2013 LEVEL: IOWA
2013 STATS: .267/.368/.465 (33 GAMES)
When Vitters plays, he usually hits. Unfortunately, he was waylaid by injuries for much of 2013. Add in the Cubs’ newfound system depth at the hot corner, and suddenly Vitters is a player without a position. Though he’s been in the organization for seven years and already has had a taste of major league action, Vitters is still only 24.
Now that Triple-A first baseman Justin Bour was selected in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, Vitters will get some time at first base as well as in the outfield at Iowa to increase his versatility and value going forward.
The California native doesn’t take many walks and only flashes average power, but if he can find a spot defensively, he has a chance to be a solid contributor. His ability to hit could help him become a serviceable asset in the majors. Because his hand-eye coordination is good enough that he makes contact with almost everything, pitch selection will be key.
Others to Watch
ALBERTO CABRERA (RHP) – After being used as a starter in 2013, Cabrera will likely contend for a bullpen spot next spring. He has a big fastball and a wipeout slider, which could make him a very valuable weapon in a late-inning role.
ERIC JOKISCH (LHP) – The Northwestern alum doesn’t light up the radar gun, but he is a big, durable, left-handed starter. Though Jokisch eats a lot of innings and throws strikes with an 87-90 mph fastball and a strong change-up, he needs to tighten up his breaking ball. He doesn’t have plus stuff to wow scouts, but he could be a more physical version of Chris Rusin.
ARMANDO RIVERO (RHP) – A hard thrower from Cuba, Rivero hits the mid-90s and has a diagonal-slanting slider. He looked strong in the minors and though the results weren’t great in the AFL, the experience gave him much-needed innings against a higher level of competition. He could be a factor in the bullpen in the near future.
MATT SZCZUR (OF) – Szczur, a steady performer throughout his minor league career, improved in numerous offensive categories in 2013 and took a step forward defensively. The hard-nosed, athletic outfielder will likely start the season in Triple-A and has a chance to contribute at the big league level as a fourth outfielder in the Reed Johnson mold.
TONY ZYCH (RHP) – Zych has top-notch velocity in the 95-98 mph range, but he sometimes struggles to miss bats. He throws a lot of strikes, but the quality can waver night to night due to an inconsistent delivery that requires some effort and energy. When it’s working, the velocity is elite, and he has a hard, sweeping slider that could be effective in high-leverage situations out of the bullpen.
Mike Olt was listed as the No. 1 prospect in the Rangers system by MLB.com. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty)
The Chicago Cubs today acquired infielder Mike Olt, right-handed pitcher Justin Grimm, right-handed pitcher C.J. Edwards and two players to be named from the Texas Rangers for right-handed pitcher Matt Garza.
Olt, 24, was the 2012 Texas Rangers Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .288 (102-for-354) with 17 doubles, one triple, 28 home runs and 82 RBI in 95 games for Double-A Frisco prior to his major league debut with Texas last August. Olt was named a Texas League midseason and postseason All-Star, and led the league in home runs and OPS (.977) despite missing the final month of the season due to promotion.
A right-handed hitter and fielder, Olt owns a .269 batting average with 65 doubles, two triples, 64 home runs, 205 RBI and a .375 on-base percentage in 305 minor league contests since he was selected by Texas in the supplemental first round (49th overall) of the 2010 draft out of the University of Connecticut. He played on the United States squad at the 2012 MLB Futures Game in Kansas City and entered this season tabbed as the Rangers second-best prospect by Baseball America.
Olt made his major league debut with Texas last season, hitting .152 (5-for-33) with a double and five RBI in 16 games following his promotion on August 2. This year, he is hitting .219 (53-for-242) with 17 doubles, 12 home runs and 34 RBI in 68 games between Double-A Frisco (three games) and Triple-A Round Rock (65 games), including a .247 mark with 10 home runs since June 3 at Triple-A.
Grimm, 24, was originally selected by the Rangers in the fifth round of the 2010 draft out of the University of Georgia. He has spent nearly the entire 2013 season at the major league level, going 7-7 with a 6.37 ERA (63 ER/89.0 IP) in 17 starts. He was named the American League Rookie of the Month for April this season after going 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA (3 ER/17.0 IP) in three starts, fanning 15 and walking only four.
Among major league rookies, Grimm trails only St. Louis’ Shelby Miller in wins and is tied for second among American League rookies with six quality starts. He leads AL rookies with 89.0 innings and ranks third with 68 strikeouts.
The right-hander made his big league debut last season after posting an 11-6 record with a 2.81 ERA in 25 appearances (22 starts) between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. He earned Texas League midseason All-Star honors last year.
Grimm is 8-8 with a 6.73 ERA (77 ER/103.0 IP) in 22 big league appearances, 19 as a starter, covering the last two seasons. Overall in his minor league career, Grimm is 19-9 with a 3.07 ERA (96 ER/281.0 IP) in 51 appearances (48 starts).
Edwards, 21, has gone 8-2 with a complete game and a 1.83 ERA (19 ER/93.1 IP) in 18 starts for Single-A Hickory this season. He has struck out 122 batters in 93.1 innings pitched, good for an average of 11.8 strikeouts per 9.0 innings, while walking just 34. A South Atlantic League midseason All-Star, Edwards has held opponents to a .186 batting average and has not surrendered a home run.
A native of Newberry, S.C., Edwards is 13-5 with a 1.68 ERA in 32 games (31 starts) since he was selected by Texas in the 48th round of the 2011 draft. He has not surrendered a home run in his professional career while averaging 11.6 strikeouts per 9.0 innings. All told, he has struck out 207 batters compared to just 59 walks in 160.1 innings pitched.
According to GM Jed Hoyer, the team will also acquire either one or two players to be named (depending on who the Cubs choose), and the additional players will be pitchers.
Garza, 29, went 21-18 with a 3.45 ERA (143 ER/372.2 IP) in 60 starts for the Cubs after he was acquired by the club in an eight-player deal with Tampa Bay on Jan. 8, 2011. He owns a 63-62 major league record with eight complete games, three shutouts, one save and a 3.80 ERA in 181 career games (178 starts) with the Twins (2006-07), Rays (2008-10) and Cubs (2011-13).