3/13/2014 1:19 P.M. ET
Better vision key to Olt's improved hitting
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Mike Olt recalls a spring game or two last year when he had a lot of success, similar to Wednesday night, when he hit two home runs and added an RBI single.
"Last year, I had a couple nights like this, but I felt like I almost got lucky," Olt said. "This year is definitely a whole different feeling. I'm feeling way more comfortable at the plate, seeing the ball really well. It helps me go forward and know that I'm definitely in the clear and looking forward to what's to come."
Olt was in the Rangers' camp last spring, and he is now with the Cubs, who acquired the third baseman in July in the Matt Garza deal. He appeared in 19 games with Texas in 2013 and batted .194 while battling vision problems which started after he suffered a concussion. Olt is seeing the ball just fine this spring.
"Last year, answering the questions [about my vision] every day was tough, because we didn't know -- I didn't know -- what to expect," Olt said. "It's a little easier to answer everything now and know that hopefully soon it won't be [asked about]."
Olt was more encouraged by the improvements he's made with his swing after some extra work in batting practice, and he feels his timing is better.
"I almost felt like I just put the bat on the ball somehow [last year]," he said. "I wasn't seeing pitches that I'm used to hitting. I think this year is a lot better. I'm going with my approach and being able to execute it now."
That's good news for the Cubs, who could use more pop in the lineup. Chicago's third-base options include Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy. Olt has played first or been the designated hitter this spring to give his right shoulder time to get stronger. He spent this offseason rehabbing the sore shoulder, and the Cubs have been cautious about where he plays to keep the stress level down.
When will he play third?
"Soon," Olt said. "I know it's going to be soon. I said before, the biggest thing is I don't want to have a setback. They really wanted to take it slow."
Russell encouraged by first spring outing
MESA, Ariz. -- James Russell passed the tests in his first game action this spring.
The left-handed reliever, who has been slowed because of a tired arm, faced four batters in one inning Wednesday night against the Mariners. He did serve up a two-out solo homer to Brad Miller, but he was encouraged by the outing.
"I was out there throwing strikes, that's all I can ask for," Russell said. "I made some good pitches and got the job done. It felt great. It's nice to get out there finally. Everything's going good."
Russell, who has appeared in more than 70 games the past two seasons, said he didn't feel rushed to be ready by Opening Day.
"Time's on our side," he said. "We've got plenty of ballgames left. It's fortunate for me. I can get enough out of my side work where I don't have to have a whole lot of appearances in games. I know how I'm going to go about getting lefties out and how to get the other guys out."
The problem isn't serious, Russell said, and something he feels every spring.
"I've had it before, and it's a little dead arm," he said. "They were a little more precautionary this time around. I think it's mainly because of the workload I've taken on. ... I'm ready to go at it and get out there and get another 80 appearances."
Bryant excited for his Las Vegas homecoming
MESA, Ariz. -- It'll be homecoming weekend for Kris Bryant, who will be part of the Cubs' travel squad for exhibition games in Las Vegas. Just don't expect to see him in the casinos.
Bryant, 22, grew up 20 minutes from downtown Las Vegas, and he took advantage of the weather there more than the proximity to the Las Vegas strip.
"Whenever you're in Vegas, you're pretty close to everything," Bryant said. "I really enjoyed growing up there, because I got to play baseball year-round. I think being able to play that much made me the player I am today."
Bryant expected plenty of friends and family to be at Cashman Field for the Cubs' games against the Mets.
"I'm coming to them, so it's a lot more convenient for them," he said. "I think it'll be a fun weekend."
Bryant did play in Las Vegas last May 6, when his University of San Diego team faced UNLV. Bryant went 4-for-7 with four RBIs, hitting two home runs.
On Wednesday, Bryant was among nine players the Cubs reassigned to Minor League camp. The third baseman, who was the second player selected overall in last year's First-Year Player Draft, was 2-for-11 in eight games, and both of his hits were home runs. He also struck out seven times.
How hard was it to face big leaguers?
"It's just baseball," Bryant said. "You go out there every day. You're playing the same game you've played. This is my 17th year playing baseball. I've been through it all, the ups and downs. This game is my passion, and I love every minute of it."
Bryant started playing at 5 years old, when his father, Mike, built a 50-foot batting cage in the backyard. Kris was hitting home runs three years later.
When Bryant was younger, he would go to Minor League games in Las Vegas to see the 51s play.
"I was amazed at how good they were," Bryant said. "Now I get a chance to play there, and hopefully there are kids who go to the game who feel the same way about us."
It wasn't any one player who made an impact on Bryant.
"It's just the fact that you're seeing a professional baseball player, and everyone there seems larger than life," he said. "It's cool to see someone there who has made it into professional baseball. It was a dream for me to play there, and I get to live out that dream now."
Will Bryant take advantage of the trip home to be in his own house?
"I think it'd be cool to actually stay at a hotel there," Bryant said. "It's something I haven't really had the chance to do. I'm just happy my family will be there to watch me and have fun."
Bryant is not a gambler, but he did see a few shows on the strip.
"You definitely stay away from the craziness," he said.
MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs top prospect Javier Baez belted his third spring home run Wednesday night, launching a pitch to left that nearly hit the scoreboard at Peoria Stadium.
"It's nothing out of the ordinary from what I've seen," Chicago's Mike Olt said of Baez. "I've really never seen anything like him. He's definitely a special player. I'm used to it now. He's in my [batting practice] group, so I see it every day."
The Cubs have had to be careful where Baez and Olt hit during batting practice at the team's complex. Baez's home runs have broken two car windows so far.
"He's definitely fun to watch," Olt said. "A bunch of the other guys coming up are fun to watch, too."
Expect to see Baez at second base next week as the Cubs get a look at the young infielder at different positions.
• Jason Hammel and Eric Jokisch each faced Minor League hitters at the Cubs' complex on Thursday to stay on schedule. It was an off-day for the rest of the team.
Looking ahead to split-squad games in Las Vegas against the Mets, Chris Rusin will start on Saturday and Carlos Pimentel is scheduled to go Sunday. Jeff Samardzija will face James Shields and the Royals on Saturday in Surprise, Ariz., and Travis Wood will go Sunday against the Indians at Cubs Park.
• The D-backs returned right-handed pitcher Marcos Mateo to the Cubs on Thursday per Rule 5 Draft guidelines. Arizona selected Mateo last December, and he appeared in four Cactus League games, giving up five hits, one walk and striking out three over four innings. Mateo, 29, appeared in 13 big league games with the Cubs over two seasons, 2010-11, but he has struggled with elbow problems. Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must stay on the Major League roster the entire season or be offered back to their previous club.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.