It’s a good time to be a Texas Rangers fan. The team boasts the best record in the American league, and the third best in baseball. Two consecutive World Series appearances have the Rangers on pace for a total regular season home attendance of 3.5 million – shattering the franchise’s record of 2.9 million, set last year, by 20%. You can guarantee that the Rangers front office is happy, as this year's roster made up the largest opening-day payroll in franchise history at $120M. What's more, expect the Rangers to eclipse that mark next year, lest we forget about the impending free agencies of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, among others.
Winning is great – it invigorates the fan base and placates even the most steadfast critics. However, as anyone who has attained success will tell you, being apathetic with success now is a quick recipe to losing your place atop the metaphorical mountaintop. How to maintain that success in the future without sacrificing the present is an issue that we are seeing unfold before our very eyes. Enter the cult hero – 6’2” bench bat, future corner infielder/trade bait Mike Olt. Generally regarded as a top 3 prospect in the Rangers farm system, Olt was called up on August 2nd to fortify the Rangers bench and to feel out how he could produce at the major league level.
Olt has struggled. With August almost over, Olt has an OPS (On Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage) of .538 this month, second worst of any Rangers “regular.”Add his defensive struggles, and it’s easy to simplify the discussion and agree with Ron Washington when he says a young player’s “time will come down the road.” Here’s the problem, though. Mike Olt has had 29 plate appearances since being called up. Coming to any conclusions on a prospect's ability to produce after 29 plate appearances is akin to trying to explain a movie by viewing a screenshot.
Under that logic, Adrian Beltre, thanks to his cycle, 5 home runs, and 13 hits in his last 31 plate appearances could be deemed the best hitter in baseball history. His OPS puts 2004 Barry Bonds and 1920 Babe Ruth to shame. To the contrary, Elvis Andrus should be benched, having put up a team-worst .666 OPS in his last 35 plate appearances. This, by the way, is still higher than the meager .645 OPS that Michael Young is posting in 510 plate appearances for the season as the primary designated hitter. This is the kind of hard-hitting analysis that is thrown out regarding Olt. The timeframe on the numbers for Beltre and Andrus? Seven days. Clearly, Olt is a failure at the major league level.
The counter to this argument is that Beltre and Andrus have a history of performance that more accurately indicates how they will proceed in the future. This is absolutely true, but it does nothing to strengthen the case behind how little Olt has been utilized; it only strengthens the case that sample size is important, and we’re not at a point where any solid determination on Olt should be made. There is a reason that Olt is such a well-regarded prospect – he has succeeded at every level he’s played at so far, and not because he was abandoned after struggling out of the gate.
Olt needs plate appearances, and he needs them badly if there is any hope he could be a meaningful right handed bench bat come playoff time. With respect, Michael Young, who is having a historically bad season at the plate, is the individual who needs to see his plate appearances cut. There is no reason that Young, who is in the bottom 10 of this year's major-league OPS leaderboard (141 hitters qualify for ranking) should have the fifth most plate appearances on this team, when guys like Craig Gentry (.780 OPS/230 PAs) and David Murphy (.890 OPS/387 PAs) have been riding the pine. With the accepted playoff odds for the Rangers hovering above 95% these days and the magic number dwindling, now is the time to see if Olt can contribute to the Rangers' success both this year and get a glimpse of what we might get in the future.
If this team is serious about winning a World Series after getting to the cusp and falling short the two prior years, it needs to quickly figure out how it can present the best possible playoff roster.
Ben Taylor is from Texas, but got out as fast as he could and currently resides in New York. In all seriousness, he loves our area and its sports teams and expresses all that on Twitter, at @Benjihana.