Al Behrman/Associated Press
Luis Valbuena (pictured) was one of the few bright spots for the Chicago Cubs in 2013, performing well above expectations as the team's primary starting third baseman. But his overall .708 OPS with 12 homers—while good for a 27-year-old utilityman who came into the season with a career .635 OPS and several failed opportunities to lock down a regular gig while with the Cleveland Indians—is very likely his ceiling.
Top competitor Mike Olt, on the other hand, has a much greater ceiling—an .850 OPS and 25-30 homers wouldn't be out of the question if reached his potential—and there might be no better time to throw him into the fire and see what he can do than during what will likely be the Cubs' final rebuilding season before going into "win-now" mode in 2015.
While the 25-year-old Olt had a poor season in 2013, posting a sub.-700 OPS between Triple-A Round Rock and Triple-A Iowa, he'll have a chance to show the Cubs that he's their future at the hot corner. If he is able to do so, the impressive crop of prospects who are in the mix to be the team's "Third Baseman of the Future"—Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Christian Villanueva—could start looking for a different path to the majors.
If both Olt and Valbuena struggle in the spring, however, don't count out either of their elite prospects, Baez or Bryant, from making a surprise run at the starting job.
Baez is still a shortstop, though, and probably won't change positions until he's closer to the majors, and Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in last year's draft, has just 36 minor-league games under his belt between High-A, Low-A and Rookie Level. The Cubs aren't likely to turn to either of them prior to the middle of the 2014 season at the earliest.