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Cubs Wed Mar 19 2014
The Matt Garza trade from last July looks better every day the Cubs show up to their shiny new facility in Mesa, Arizona.
At the time, the prize of the deal was thought to be C.J. Edwards, the skinny starting pitcher from South Carolina that was basically an afterthought as a 48th round pick in the 2011 draft, only to blow away minor league hitters to the tune of a 1.72 ERA and a jaw dropping 240 strikeouts in 183 innings thus far. He cracked every top 100 list with his breakout performance split between low and high-A in 2013, and will make the difficult jump to double-A in less than a month.
Justin Grimm spot started each of the past two seasons for Texas, but struggled mightily avoiding contact. The Cubs plan: switch him to the bullpen full-time to light up the radar gun. He's only pitched four innings this spring, and has still struggled giving up too much contact, but this is the normal development route for pitchers. If they can't get over the hump as starters, move them to the bullpen and let 'em throw hard for 20 pitches to see what they can do. The problem for the Cubs has been they haven't even had starters good enough to make it to the majors in the first place.
Neil Ramirez was the player to be named later in the deal, and his frame is similar to that of Edwards'. The Cubs haven't decided if he's going to remain a starter or move to the bullpen do to injury concerns (the Cubs waited to include him to make sure his shoulder was OK), but if he moves to 'pen, the radar gun will read 98 with some consistency. Not bad for a fourth guy in a trade.
But the real prize in the deal might be the often forgotten Mike Olt. A top 40 prospect as recently as 2013, Olt had a train wreck season last year that's being chalked up to a concussion, along with eye problems he had trouble getting under control. According to him, both issues are in the rear-view mirror, and he's preparing himself as if he'll be the opening day third basemen at Wrigley Field.
There's no arguing his stock took a hit last season because of the .201/.303/.381 line he put up while striking out in one-third of his at bats, but the potential is certainly there if all the medical problems are behind him. 2012 wasn't that long ago, when he put up a monster .288/.398/.579 line with 28 homers in just 95 games at double-A. Strikeouts will always be high with him, but he draws plenty of walks to go with it. He also gets high grades for his defense at third base, and that kind of power/fielding combo is like finding a needle in a haystack at the major league level these days.
Fast forward to spring training this season, and the power is real. He's among the league leaders in homers (along with Javier Baez), and is showing massive power to left field and center, along with the ability to make loud contact going the other way. The strikeouts are still there (12 in 31 spring at bats), but if he can glove it well enough at third base (a shoulder problem has limited him to DH and 1B so far), he'll make Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's decision a difficult one.
The platoon combo of Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy were expected to open up at third base for the Chicago version of the Cubs, but Olt is making sure management hears the type of power he has. It wasn't that long ago where he was thought of in the same way fans now see Baez, Kris Bryant, and Albert Almora.