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Now healthy, Olt optimistic about his future

Former elite prospect confident his career is back on track with the Cubs

MESA, Ariz.-- Looking back on how it has all gone down these past two years, Cubs third baseman Mike Olt resolutely sees the glass as half full. When he sat on the bench for days at a time, he called it a chance to watch how veterans go about their business. When Olt got hurt, he said adversity can be an important learning tool.

For a guy who surely wondered if his career might be over before it even began, that approach speaks volumes about Olt's attitude, and it reveals why so many people are rooting for him.

"I think a lot of my years were smooth sailing," Olt said. "To get that wakeup call probably was good for me. It was good to deal with adversity. I think it makes you a stronger player."

Things finally appear to be working out they way they were supposed to. Still only 25, Olt is completely recovered from concussion-like symptoms that derailed his career, and he is competing for a spot in the Cubs' Opening Day lineup.

Watching Olt now is a reminder that two short years ago he was one of the top prospects in baseball, a guy who was about as close to a can't-miss talent as anyone. On Tuesday, he launched a towering pinch-hit two-run home run, and in that one moment, he showed the quickness, instincts and power scouts have seen in him since his first days at the University of Connecticut.

"He came in off the bench after sitting all day and put a really good swing on it," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He's very confident and feels very good about everything that's occurring with him now."

Renteria offered one of the highest compliments one baseball guy can pay another, saying, "He doesn't panic at the plate."

In other words, Olt believes he belongs.

Olt hasn't played a game at third base yet this spring because of a sore shoulder, but he is expected to be back on the field soon, perhaps by the end of the week. Regardless, he should have plenty of time to win a job.

"It's definitely exciting for me," Olt said. "This offseason was a little bit different. I definitely have a mindset to work as hard as I can and know there's an opportunity out there. I wanted to make sure I gave it my all and was really prepared for the situation.

"This game is all about being healthy. All these guys, we're all at the same talent level. It's a matter of when you get up there, staying healthy and staying in line and all that."

The Rangers made Olt the 49th pick of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, and he flew through their system, making his big league debut in '12 in just his second full professional season.

That's where Olt encountered his first bit of adversity. Rangers manager Ron Washington, loyal to his veteran players, gave Olt just 10 starts in two months. Olt didn't make the most of his limited opportunities, hitting just .152.

"It was tough not to play," Olt said, "but I was able to sit back and watch our veterans and [see] how they go about their daily routine. They did everything the same every day. I really didn't have a routine. It's something I started to pick up on, and I think it's going to help me."

Things got worse when Olt went to the Dominican Winter League after the 2012 season and got hit in the head with a pitch. Concussion-like symptoms followed, then he began to experience blurred vision.

"It was very scary," Olt said. "I didn't know what was going on with me, and the doctors didn't know either. I knew something was wrong. It's scary not knowing. But when we found out exactly what could be done, it was an easy fix."

That is, Olt needed time for the concussion symptoms to dissipate and then more time to treat the blurred vision, which doctors believe was caused by allergies.

Asked how he got through it, Olt said: "The biggest thing was getting to the field. Whenever I get to a field, I'm able to block out everything that's going on outside. Even if I wasn't playing, just being in the locker room with the guys, it gets you away from all the crazy things that are going on."

Olt was still experiencing the blurred vision last season when he hit .201 for three Minor League teams. On July 22, he was included in a package of players the Rangers sent to the Cubs for veteran right-hander Matt Garza.

Now healthy again, Olt is part of a player development system on its way to becoming one of the strongest in the game. He is aware that Cubs used their top pick in 2013 on University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant, who probably won't be in the Minors long.

First things first.

"If you start letting all the outside things bother you, you're not going to be able to play to your potential," Olt said. "[Bryant is] a very talented player, too. You just keep going forward, and it'll all figure itself out. My confidence level when I'm healthy is always high. I know I can play at the highest level. It feels good to know I'm healthy. It's just more fun now."

If it all works out, who'll remember that he lost a year of his career? Maybe Olt will always see it as part of the growth process.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
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