We say this about a number of Chicago Cubs prospects, but that doesn’t make it any less true each time we say it: in another system Kyle Schwarber would get so much more hype. Called a reach at number four overall in the draft this year, Schwarber has done nothing to disprove the Cubs’ faith in him as the top bat on their board going into the draft. He crushed each of the three levels at which he played, fresh out of college, and did so not only with huge power but also with a clearly advanced approach at the plate.
Questions about whether Schwarber will hit enough to play in the big leagues are virtually non-existent.
Questions about where he’ll play, however, persist. And that’s actually a huge compliment to a guy whom many said might not even be able to play left field professionally. Through his own hard work and talent, Schwarber is raising the question of whether he can play long-term at catcher.
Each of Theo Epstein and Schwarber spoke more this week about the plan to continue working Schwarber behind the plate this offseason to see if there’s a chance that he really can stick at catcher. Epstein, speaking to ESPN, underscored the importance of the decision by noting that, “Ultimately, for us, that’s where the greatest impact lies. When you can put that left-handed bat behind the plate, that’s something we have to try.” And that’s really thing thing: the situation is the perfect confluence of events to try keeping Schwarber at catcher.
First, there isn’t a need, from a big league or organizational perspective, to rush Schwarber to the big leagues as quickly as possible. No, you don’t want to slow the bat down, but, given the composition of the roster, the upper minors, and the timeline for competitiveness, the Cubs have a little time to work with Schwarber.
Second, having an offseason and instructional league to work with Schwarber and see whether catching in 2015 is going to be a realistic proposition is ideal. Schwarber just started his professional career, and the Cubs will now have the ability to not only develop his skills in a controlled environment, they can also evaluate whether catching is really in his future before he gets too far down the road. If the Cubs find out it’s not going to work this offseason, then they’ve really lost nothing. But if Schwarber continues to show progress and flashes potential? Then each of the Cubs and Schwarber can have much more confidence in really making a go of catching in 2015 and beyond.
And third, Schwarber is clearly a special player – the kind with whom you can try working at catcher, knowing that (1) it won’t screw up his development otherwise, and (2) he could really make it work.
I won’t belabor what we’ve discussed before about the dramatic increase in value to the Cubs Schwarber could present as an offensively-inclined catcher, assuming the back-stop skills are passable (and his work with the pitchers is solid). So, given the huge potential upside – and limited downside risk – why not give it a shot? I’m very pleased that this is happening.
How Schwarber performs in the instructional league, and how the Cubs align the plan for him in 2015, is among the top offseason storylines on the prospecting side.
While you’ve got Schwarber on the mind, you should read this Vine Line piece on the Cubs’ top 2014 pick. He just seems like an awesome guy, and a huge boon to the Cubs’ system.