When baseball season rolls around in Storrs next spring, there will be much anticipation surrounding the University of Connecticut baseball team coming off their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993. The 2009 squad was loaded with underclassmen and there will be plenty of familiar faces at J.O. Christian Field in 2010.
One face that will not be there is junior third baseman Mike Olt.
The University of Connecticut baseball team finished the regular season ranked No. 19/No. 20 in Rivals.com and Baseball America Top-25 poll, setting numerous program records along the way to a second place finish in the Big East Tournament and in the Big East regular season standings.
A large portion of the program’s success in 2010 can be attributed to their unrelenting offense, and a large of portion of their offense’s success can be attributed to the powerful Olt.
The Branford, Conn. native is hitting .313 on the season with 64 runs scored and 68 RBI entering the NCAA Tournament. His 21 home runs this season are a new single-season record for the Huskies, eclipsing the 19 home runs Brian Packin hit in 1999.
Underscoring Olt’s power is his title as the champion of the 2010 Big East Tournament home run derby. Though he does not necessarily project as a power guy in the minor leagues, Olt, who played for the Orleans Cardinals in the prestigious Cape Cad League one summer ago, is a guy who can hit a ball a long way and will find himself legging out his fair share of doubles that find the gaps.
In his three years in Storrs, Olt is hitting .313 with 42 home runs which is one behind Jason Grabowski for the program record who hit 43 home runs for the Huskies from 1995-1997. Olt also ranks third in career RBI with 169 and second with 366 total bases. As the Huskies prepare to host the NCAA Regionals at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Conn. Olt will have a few more games to try and work his way up the career records lists.
Baseball America ranks Olt as the eighth best third baseman available, projecting him to go in the third or fourth round. More impressively, the publication ranks him as the third best college defensive player available in the draft behind Gary Brown, OF, Cal State Fullerton and Andrelton Simmons, SS, West Oklahoma State JC.
In his time at UConn Olt has had his fair share of defensive problems however his rise to being one of the best defensive collegiate players in the country is not surprising given the tools he displays on a daily basis. Anyone who has watched a Connecticut baseball game over the past three seasons has seen a player with an oft-suspect glove but a major league ready arm from the first day he stepped on campus.
However unsurprising, Olt’s arc to becoming the best defensive third baseman in this upcoming draft has been far from orthodox. He played 54 games as a freshman at shortstop, earning Freshman All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball for his offense and not the 18 errors he committed in the field.
A season ago Olt played the first 26 games of the season at shortstop before injuring his shoulder and missing the next 22 games. He switched over to third base for the final 12 games of the season and never looked comfortable at the hot corner.
He finished 2009 with 21 errors and an .873 fielding percentage in 38 games but has turned a corner defensively in 2010. In 61 games, Olt has a career-high .941 fielding percentage while committing a career-low 12 errors.
Scouts have lamented how there are barely 15 players with first-round talent in this draft, never mind 32 such players. Scouts have also complained how there are seemingly fewer impact college players in this year’s draft than in years past.
With his first full-season under his belt at third base, Olt has shown a combination of potential and experience that is turning the heads of major league scouts.
With Major League Baseball’s entry draft taking place from June 7-9, look for Mike Olt to be playing out his final days as a collegiate ballplayer as the No. 2 UConn Huskies play out the final days of their season- and Olt’s career- in the NCAA Tournament.