ARLINGTON -- The Arizona Fall League is just what third baseman Mike Olt needed to help regain his status as one of the Rangers' top offensive prospects. He is getting back at-bats that he lost in the summer, he is facing tougher pitching than he did in the Carolina League and he is learning to use the entire field rather than be strictly just a pull hitter. The results have been impressive, as Olt hit his ninth home run on Monday afternoon in the Surprise Saguaros' 4-3 loss to the Phoenix Desert Dogs. He is now hitting .341 with a league-leading nine home runs, 32 RBIs and a .720 slugging percentage in 20 games for the Saguaros. He was also recently named the AFL's Player of the Week
"It has been great," Olt said by phone after Monday's game. "I've been working on a bunch of things and things are starting to click. My confidence is up and my swing is coming around. This has helped out a lot." He has tinkered with his stance and learned to go to the opposite field, which is something the Rangers stress with big league hitters like Nelson Cruz and Mitch Moreland. Manager Ron Washington calls it "staying in the big part of the ballpark," and Olt is learning what that means. He could still be better with his selectivity. He has 26 strikeouts in 82 at-bats while walking 10 times. But a .412 on-base percentage is still 17th best in the league. Olt is also facing much better pitching after not yet having played above the Class A Carolina League. His home run on Monday came against right-hander David Phelps, the No. 8 prospect in the Yankees' organization according to MLB.com who pitched at Triple-A last season. There are 34 former first-round Draft picks playing in the AFL this year, including 13 pitchers. "Now you're getting to the point where you're facing pitchers where you get one to two pitches to do something [with] during an at-bat rather than three to four," Olt said. "Selectivity is a big thing." Olt holds a unique distinction in the Rangers' organization. He is the only player the Rangers have to show for Ivan Rodriguez ever having played in Arlington. Olt was taken with the 49th overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Connecticut. It was a compensation pick that the Rangers received when Rodriguez, after a short second stay in Texas at the end of the 2009 season, signed as a free agent with the Nationals. So far, Olt has played in 142 Minor League games and is hitting .279 with 24 home runs and 89 RBIs with a .482 slugging percentage. He played in 69 games at Class A Myrtle Beach this past season and hit .267 with 14 home runs, 42 RBIs and a .504 slugging percentage. But he missed 2 1/2 months with a broken left collarbone after a collision at home plate in early June. "There was a ball hit to left field and there was a play at the plate," Olt said. "I lowered my shoulder -- I probably shouldn't have -- and the catcher came down on it. It was a freak accident, part of baseball. It was definitely a setback, but there was nothing I could do except work to get in shape and get back." He played in 15 games at the end of the season, and now the Arizona Fall League allows him to make up for the lost time. "Prior to his injury in 2011, Mike Olt was putting together a superlative offensive season in Myrtle Beach, which is a very pitcher-friendly park," assistant general manager Thad Levine said. "To see him not only regain his pre-injury form, but to improve upon it in the Arizona Fall League is a tremendous accomplishment. Mike has considerable momentum heading into the 2012 season." The next step is likely Double-A Frisco. The jump from Class A to Double A is the biggest in the Minor Leagues, and the serious prospects are the ones who succeed at that level. The Rangers will also keep an eye on him in Spring Training. He may not be invited to big league camp just yet, but the Rangers always use extra Minor Leaguers in Cactus League games and Olt was 4-for-10 with a home run last spring. Olt is a key player for the Rangers, because the strength of their farm system over the past several years has been pitching. The system has had a shortage of legitimate offensive power hitters, and he has been a part of the Rangers' efforts in the past couple of years to change that. He is currently ranked seventh among Rangers prospects by MLB.Com. The only problem is the Rangers have third baseman Adrian Beltre signed for the next four years. That not only blocks Olt, but also Tommy Mendonca, another third baseman who was a second-round Draft pick out of Fresno State in 2009 and hit .278 with 25 home runs and 87 RBIs at Double-A Frisco last season. The Rangers aren't overly concerned about that. Their primary philosophy is to develop as many good players as possible and worry about such matters when the time comes. They have several excellent middle-infield prospects -- including Jurickson Profar and Leury Garcia -- who are blocked by Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler. Olt could be two years away from being an option at the big league level. "I really don't think about that," Olt said. "That's something out of my control. If I keep on doing what I'm doing, they'll find a place for me. If I think about that, I'll get away from what I'm trying to do." What he is doing now is impressive. The Arizona Fall League is designed to allow top prospects to face good competition, and Olt, after a major setback this summer, is thriving in that environment.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.