With Bryant on hold, Olt looks to win Cubs' job

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Associated Press File/July 2014Cubs third baseman Mike Olt arrived at spring training with a refreshed mental outlook.

    Associated Press File/July 2014Cubs third baseman Mike Olt arrived at spring training with a refreshed mental outlook.

 
 
Updated 2/24/2015 10:13 PM

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs' third-base situation may come down to mind over matter. At least for now.

Everybody seems to agree that Kris Bryant is the long-term answer at the hot corner. It's just a matter of how soon the Cubs call him up.

 

In the meantime, the Cubs have an interesting situation at third base, and with all things involving new manager Joe Maddon, there are a lot of moving parts involved, including sports psychology.

More on that in a bit. Even though Maddon has been the Cubs' manager a short time, he knows all about the 215-pound Bryant in the room.

"You can all draw your conclusions, if you're looking long term, if you're looking short term," Maddon said. "It's open. Play the schedule during this camp, play all the games, watch the work, make your conclusions at the end.

"You're looking at Kris probably being a nice long-term solution. Is he ready right now? I don't even know. I've never seen the guy on the field. There are other really good candidates who can play there, probably not to the level he can on long-term basis.

"At the conclusion of this camp, what's the right thing to do then? That's what we have to do."

Cubs fans have been apprised of the likely scenario for a while. Largely because the Cubs want to save a year on Bryant's free-agency clock, they'll likely delay his big-league arrival until sometime later in April or into May, depending how he does at Class AAA Iowa.

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In the meantime, the Cubs will take another look at Mike Olt, who hit 12 homers in 89 games with the big club last year but struck out 100 times in 225 at-bats. Olt was sent to Iowa, where he hit .302 with 7 homers in 28 games.

"You take it as a learning experience," he said Monday. "It took me awhile to figure that out. I feel like I dwelled on that a lot last year and put a lot of pressure on myself. Think of all the positive things we did and try to get over the negatives. You start to pick up some things that helped you from last year."

Asked if he still beats himself up over it, he replied: "Not anymore. I think that's part of coming to a new organization. Young guy, I just wanted to prove myself. You put more pressure on yourself and kind of spiral downhill pretty quick. Now I'm a lot more comfortable and ready to go."

I asked Olt what enabled him to stop beating himself up. He gave a pithy reply.

"It wasn't working beating yourself up, so I needed to make a little change," he said. "Sometimes we're too competitive. You take the competitiveness to yourself, which is a good thing, but try to control it a little bit."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Maddon is one of the more progressive managers in the majors, so he has embraced the idea of players working with sports psychologists or "mental-skills" coaches. Consultant Ken Ravizza will meet Tuesday with Cubs position players as they formally report to spring training.

Over the winter, Olt said he met with Josh Lifrak, who heads up the Cubs' program.

"That was kind of a big thing for me, getting over a lot of negative thoughts," he said. "It's just the way they word things and can talk about and reiterate, 'You did do some good things last year and you've got to try to focus on those' and go from there.

"It's a lot more mental than physical at this level. All of us have the talent to do it. It's now putting it all together and making sure that mentally you can get over every hump it throws at you. In the off-season, the biggest thing for me was getting that confidence back."

Bryant, the Cubs' top pick in 2013 from the University of San Diego, also embraces the idea of getting as much mental help as possible.

"Going to college really helped me out in that area," he said. "There's so much more to this game than the physical side. You've really got to go out there and believe that you're better than the pitcher every day.

"I think I have a pretty good understanding of the mental part of this game. I still have a lot of work to do in that area. I definitely look forward to that challenge."

Bryant hit 22 home runs last year at Class AA Tennessee before hitting 21 at Iowa and earning just about everybody's award for minor-league player of the year.

Maddon says he's impressed by Bryant's humility. As for his part, Bryant praised Olt and said he was looking forward to "friendly competition."

"He's a great guy to be around, just getting to hang out with him in Iowa every day was a blast," the 23-year-old Bryant said.

"I think I have a good opportunity in front of me. I'm going to go out there and play as hard as I can and compete with my friends. It can be friendly competition, but I think we're all excited to get going."

• Follow Bruce's Cubs reports on Twitter @BruceMiles2112

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