Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 12/21/12
A Golden rule of developing prospects is, “Never move a player off a more valuable defensive position until he proves incapable of playing there at the Major League Level.” This leaves the Texas Rangers in an enviable, but difficult position as they have a 10 win left-side of the infield and both the best third base and shortstop prospects in baseball. Jurickson Profar is untouchable, but Mike Olt has been discussed in a number of trade rumors recently. first, he was rumored to the Braves for shortstop Andrelton Simmons. More recently, Olt’s name was thrown as a key piece in a package for Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. This leaves me questioning if the Rangers are working to sell high on the former UConn Husky. In April, I arrived in Surprise, Arizona at the Rangers minor league complex and stumbled upon a Double-A batting practice session including Olt. While I was impressed by a muscular physique primed for power, the ball did not explode off his barrel like other top power prospects I’ve seen. Later in the day, a couple of Olt at-bats left him looking lost against Major League pitching. Concerned about a first impression gleaned from the smallest of sample sizes, I began to ask contacts who had seen Olt what they thought. As a third base prospect, Olt was universally praised for a well-rounded skill set buoyed by a plus defensive profile. An “above average regular” was used frequently to describe Olt with offensive projections in the .270 batting average, 25 home run range. Since then, I’ve perceived a disconnect between the prospect and scouting communities regarding Olt. His .288/.398/.579 line in Double-A has landed him in the prospect pantheon at a time when his own organization has been shopping him around. From a scouting perspective, Olt has to remain at third base to maintain maximum value. Move him to left field or first base, and his defensive value is negated — Especially in the outfield. This may explain Texas’ hesitation to name him the “first baseman of the future”. By doing so, the Rangers devalue their own asset which is never good for business. For this reason, Olt to New York never made sense as David Wright‘s new contract will allow him to retire a Met. Between 1999 and 2009, teammate Adrian Beltre accumulated 43.2 wins above replacement behind plus defense at third and slightly above average offensive production. This ranked him 21st amongst all position players in WAR. Had Beltre been a first baseman during that period, his lack of offense might have led to his being bumped from the starting lineup altogether. Beltre’s wRC+ of 105 would have tied for 29th amongst all first baseman with 3000 plate appearances or more. Remember journeyman Tony Clark? He posted a wRC+ of 105 too. Olt is similar to the player Beltre was a decade ago in terms triple slash projection and defensive value. And with his propensity for striking out, Olt might produce less offensively. When Mike Moustakas is worth 3.5 wins behind a 90 wRC+ and plus defense, it’s conceivable to rank Olt as a top-12 third baseman entering 2013. Unfortunately for him, Beltre is currently producing at hall of fame levels. Shift Olt to another position and his risk for exposure is too high. For the Rangers, shopping him at maximum value is the smart move.
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