It’s easy to forget that World Series hero Kyle Schwarber is coming off the kind of serious knee injury that would call into question the future performance – at least in the near-term – of any player.
It’s also easy to forget that, for most young players with a breakout initial half-season, we’d be wondering what adjustments would be necessary to succeed in that first full MLB season.
But because of that World Series performance, it’s been all the easier not to think about the “normal” adjustments we’d expect a 23-year-old like Schwarber to be making going into the 2017 season. It’s been easy to assume he’s just going to be awesome again.
And, were we betting, I’d call you crazy to do anything but put all your chips on number 12. But it’s fair to keep in mind that, if Schwarber needs time to adjust – be it normal “sophomore” adjustments he didn’t have an opportunity to make last year, or normal “coming back from a massive knee injury” adjustments.
All that said, Schwarber himself believes he’ll be just fine when the bell rings, and told the Tribune that not only does everything feel good with his knee, but he also still wants to push to catch. In fact, the Tribune article notes that Schwarber has been medically cleared to catch. That doesn’t necessarily mean he will catch next season.
From a preparation standpoint, we’ve long heard that Schwarber spent a great deal of his rehab time working with the Cubs’ coaching staff learning about pitchers, game-planning as a catcher, reviewing scouting reports, etc.
For their part, the Cubs have been cautious not to suggest catching is in Schwarber’s immediate future, and I think it’s also worth noting that Schwarber can still improve in left field, too, if he’s given enough dedicated time there. In other words, if Schwarber is solely a left fielder in 2017, I think it would be hard to argue against that decision, given the possibility he could be average defensively there, and the possibility that his bat will be monstrous.
Would it make sense for Schwarber to catch once in a while, like he was slated to do last season? Absolutely. No one would be expecting Schwarber to catch all the time – Willson Contreras is slated to be the nominal starter, and Miguel Montero will make a lot of starts as the back-up. It’s just that we’ve seen the kind of flexibility having three catchers on the roster affords Joe Maddon, and the way match-ups could be optimized further by having Schwarber available to catch even just once a week is significant.
But, if it adds any risk whatsoever to Schwarber’s ability to max out his ability at the plate and in left field? That’s when the Cubs may have to make a firm call.
We’ll see what happens when Spring Training rolls around. I’d be surprised if Schwarber doesn’t spend the vast majority of his time in left field, focusing his defensive energies there. But, hey, Schwarber has surprised us all before. When we see where he’s getting in his work, we’ll know a great deal about the plan for his season.
There’s a lot more to read in Mark Gonzales’s piece at the Tribune on Schwarber, including his own updated thoughts on whether he could have played the outfield in the World Series, and how he’d feel about batting leadoff (something we’ve discussed previously).
The interview took place at a New Era photoshoot, from which you can see some stylish shots of the Cubs’ young masher:
— Amanda Kaschube (@amandakaschube) January 11, 2017