- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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CINCINNATI -- Over the course of the first month of the Chicago Cubs season, I have written a lot about the playing time of young players Junior Lake and Mike Olt. The Cubs need to know what they have in them. This is the year to find out.
One position on the issue says limited playing time is not the way to go about it. It doesn't provide the rhythm or mental stability needed to max out on the talent. The other side -- the way the Cubs have handled it -- entails putting them in the best position to succeed. That means facing left-handed pitching only, sitting against the tough righties or getting a day off when struggling.
"You can learn a lot," manager Rick Renteria said before the Cubs and Reds were rained out Monday. "Sometimes when you don't play, you might be more exhausted than when you do because you're really paying attention to all the things everyone else is doing. It's still a classroom."
Yes, but nothing beats classroom participation. And in this case, nothing beats getting at-bats. Against lefties, righties, good pitchers and bad. But more than just the experience, it's still the better mental approach. Playing every day gives Lake and Olt one thing to think about: that day's game.
"We constantly have conversations and try to make sure they stay upbeat," Renteria said. "Make sure they understand they don't have to get 2-3 hits to get back in the lineup the next day. They could get 2-3 hits and still not be in the lineup the next day."
Renteria is indicting the Cubs strategy with his own words. The fact that they have to have these conversations, that the players have to be wondering, is in fact a distraction.
It's not a stretch to think it has affected them. Look at some of the results so far:
- Lake: .206, 29 K's, 3 BBs
Olt: .185, 20 K's, 4 HRs, 10 RBIs
Both have too many strikeouts, but Olt's power has been impressive and Lake still has a .344 batting average on balls in play. Isn't it possible both are pressing and swinging at balls they shouldn't? From the little they've said about their playing time, you can draw some conclusions.
"Hitting is tough, especially if you do get sporadic at-bats," Olt said recently.
Lake added earlier in the month: "If you play every day, you see a lot of pitches every day. If you see one pitch here, one pitch tomorrow, you don't make the adjustments."
Could the two players do any worse if they were playing every day? Olt's line drive percentage is 11 percent. The league average is 21. Lake is at 17 percent. They need more swings, more information about pitchers and no one looking over their shoulder. The casual Cubs fan might look at those batting averages and say they aren't good, sit them down or send them to Iowa. I say play them more. As in every day.
That's saying a lot coming off the weekend Lake just played in Milwaukee. He was awful. But try something else. Sit them down, tell them to relax and then tell them not to look at the lineup card for two weeks or even a month. With Justin Ruggiano on the disabled list, both have been playing more, but it's still not enough.
Are we to believe this is how Javier Baez or Kris Bryant will break into the big leagues? Of course not. They are more talented, which tells me it's even more important for Olt and Lake to see as much pitching as they can while eliminating the question of playing time or, even worse, a demotion.
"We're trying to give them as many starts as we possibly can and find the right mixes," Renteria said.
There's no one standing in their way in the outfield or third base to allow this to happen, so double down.