The Cubs enjoyed their only scheduled day off of spring training Thursday. With the March 31 regular-season opener at Pittsburgh approaching fast, some things are starting to take shape.
One position seems to be developing the way the Cubs would like it to unfold, and that's third base.
Mike Olt hit a pair of home runs in Wednesday's late-night 8-7 loss to the Mariners. Olt has yet to play third in a Cactus League game because he's recovering from what is described as a tender right shoulder.
But the 2 home runs gave him 3 for the spring to tie him with shortstop phenom Javier Baez for the team lead. If Olt can step up and win the third-base job, it would allow the Cubs to slot infielders Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy into preferred utility roles.
That's if Murphy makes the team at all. Another utility man, Emilio Bonifacio, is pushing hard for a job.
Olt suffered a lost season last year between the Texas and Cubs organizations. The Rangers traded him to the Cubs in July in the deal that sent pitcher Matt Garza to the Rangers. While persistent vision problems held Olt to a .201 batting average among three minor-league stops last year, he did hit 15 home runs.
"Last year, I had a couple nights like this, but I felt almost like I got lucky last year," Olt told reporters. "This year is definitely a whole different feeling. I'm feeling way more comfortable at the plate. It definitely does help me go forward and know I'm in the clear."
Olt is 7-for-21 and has a hitting line of .333/.333/.762 with 6 RBI, no walks and 7 strikeouts.
Kids gone, not forgotten:
Eventually, the third-base job could belong to Kris Bryant, the Cubs' first-round draft pick (second overall) from last season.
But that will have to wait.
Bryant was one of the players the Cubs sent to minor-league camp Wednesday. Also reassigned were center-field prospect Albert Almora, who played last year for the Kane County Cougars, and lefty Eric Jokisch, a product of Northwestern University.
Outfield prospect Jorge Soler was optioned to Class AA Tennessee. Optioned to Class AAA Iowa were infielders Arismendy Alcantara and Logan Watkins and outfielder Matt Szczur.
Bryant, 22, had a hitting line of .182/.250/.727 with 2 home runs and 4 RBI in the early going of spring training. He's likely headed to Class AA Tennessee to start the season.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria seemed happy with the young players in big-league camp, especially touted prospects Bryant, Soler and Almora.
"We're glad they're Cubbies," Renteria told the media. "They've shown their ability to be professionals here in terms of how they carried themselves, some of the performances they had in the course of the spring. Now it's time for them to get down there and start getting more at-bats and start getting ready for the regular season for themselves and continue to develop and improve on their skill sets."
Moving Baez around:
Baez is still in big-league camp, and he'll be there for at least a little while longer. The Cubs want to see him at other infield positions, particularly with Starlin Castro (still hobbled with a hamstring injury) still the starting shortstop.
The Cubs may get Baez some action at second base and third base beginning next week. The organization has been steadfast in saying Baez will open the season as the shortstop at Iowa.
"We want to still be able to see him work and play at different positions," Renteria said. "We still haven't gotten him over at second base. We plan on doing it Monday or Tuesday. We'll go from there, maybe working him at third."
Castro has played in just two spring games. He injured his left hamstring on March 2, and the Cubs are bringing him along slowly because they want him ready for the start of the regular season.
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