Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado and Texas Rangers third baseman Mike Olt (Photos by Jason Wise and Ron Vesely, Getty Images)
Arenado: Nolan Arenado was a high school star in El Toro, California. Committed to Arizona State, he was drafted in the second round in 2009, then signed for $625,000. He was a shortstop in high school but was moved to third base in pro ball. His work ethic and makeup are well-regarded, although some scouts say he lets his emotions get the better of him on occasion. This isn't considered a serious problem and he is regarded as a leader on the field.
Olt: Mike Olt played high school ball in Branford, Connecticut. He wasn't drafted, but emerged as a prospect after three strong seasons in college for the University of Connecticut. The Rangers drafted him in the supplemental first round in 2010, giving him a $717,300 bonus. His work ethic and makeup draw praise and he is regarded as a leader on the field.
Comparison: Arenado, from a warm-weather state, was much better known in high school, but cold-weather prep Olt made up for lost time in college and pushed himself high up on draft lists. Both players draw positive comment for their makeup. Olt is a bit more mature, but he's also older and has simply had more time to grow as a person.
TOOLS, PHYSICALITY, AND HEALTH
Arenado: Arenado is a 6-1, 205 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born April 16, 1991. He has a strong and accurate throwing arm, good hands, sufficient range for third base, and has worked hard to keep himself in physical condition, avoiding early concerns that he might have to switch positions and move to first base. Although his swing is a line-drive type stroke, he has plenty of strength and shows power to all fields. He isn't a walk machine, but has a good eye and makes contact, avoiding high numbers of strikeouts. His weakest tool is speed: he doesn't have any, although his mobility works just fine on defense. He lost over a month of playing time to a groin injury in 2010, but was fully healthy last year.
Olt: Olt is a 6-2, 210 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born August 27, 1988. He has a strong and accurate throwing arm, very good hands, and suitable range at third base. His reactions at the hot corner are excellent and he could be a Gold Glove contender eventually. Olt has a power-oriented swing and the ball jumps off his bat. He can become overly power-conscious at times and is vulnerable to strikeouts, but he has a good measure of patience and draws a large number of walks. His weakest tool is running speed, although his mobility works just fine on defense and some scouts think he can handle the outfield. He lost half of 2011 with a broken collarbone suffered in a home plate collision, but that was a freak accident.
Comparison: There are both similarities and differences here. Both are skilled defenders at third base, although Olt is more polished. Both have below average running speed, but both also have strong arms and good reactions. Olt has more raw power, but Arenado is a better pure hitter. Olt is more selective, but Arenado makes better contact and doesn't strike out as much.
Arenado: Arenado had an excellent 2011 campaign, hitting .298/.349/.487 with 32 doubles, 20 homers, 122 RBI, 47 walks, and just 53 strikeouts in 517 at-bats for Modesto in the California League. The Cal League is good for hitting, although Modesto is one of the less-extreme environments. Arenado was MVP of the 2011 Arizona Fall League, hitting .388/.423/.636 in 29 games, with six homers, eight walks, and 14 strikeouts in 121 at-bats.
Olt: Olt hit .267/.387/.504 for Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League, with 14 homers, 48 walks, and 70 strikeouts in 240 at-bats. He was excellent in the 2011 Arizona Fall League, hitting .349/.433/.764 in 27 games, with 13 homers, 15 walks and 36 strikeouts in 106 at-bats.
Comparison: Both of them were strong performers in High-A last year, although Olt was playing in a more difficult league for hitters. Both players thrived in the Arizona Fall League.
Arenado: Arenado projects as a potential All-Star third baseman, capable of hitting for both average and power with very good defense at third base. He is just 20 years old, turning 21 next month.
Olt: Olt projects as a potential All-Star third baseman, getting on base at a good clip, hitting for power, and providing superior, Gold Glove-caliber defense at third. He turns 24 in August.
Comparison: Arenado is younger and will likely hit for a higher batting average, while Olt is more of a patience/power type. Olt has a better glove, but Arenado's isn't bad and he is in a better place on the age/development curve.
Both of these players should have long and productive careers, although Arenado's youth and better feel for contact are significant advantages. I rate Arenado higher on my Top 120 Prospects list, at Number 13, with Olt checking in at 65. The Olt ranking feels a bit low right now. I will be doing a revised list for Opening Day and Olt could see his rank boosted, although Arenado will still come out ahead. I gave Arenado a Grade A- in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book, with Olt getting a very strong Grade B.