It’s been a wild week – OK, really, a wild career – for Kyle Schwarber.
The 24-year-old outfielder went from struggling leadoff hitter to heroic nine-hole hitter, with frequently public talk about whether he needed a demotion to the minor leagues in-between.
This weekend, we saw the highs and lows of Schwarber’s current state of being. On Friday, in a critical bases-loaded situation late in a tie game against the Cardinals, Schwarber was lifted for a pinch hitter. Clearly, it’s been a precipitous fall for the miraculous World Series hero. But then on Saturday, Schwarber was not lifted for a pinch hitter in a critical bases-loaded situation late in a game the Cubs trailed against the Cardinals – largely because Mike Matheny specifically chose to stick with his righty starter so that Joe Maddon wouldn’t pinch hit for Schwarber – and the slugger responded with an opposite-field grand slam.
It would be as wrong to say the grand slam proves he’s fixed as the slump before it proved he was broken, but it is fair to say that this will still be an ongoing process of adjustments for a young hitter still getting his footing in the big leagues, who has now been platooned and dropped to the bottom of the batting order.
I have no doubt that he has the constitution to handle this process as well as anyone could, but, on the whole, it’s gotta be a lot of negative stuff for a young guy to process. Again, that’s why it was so awesome for him to have that grand slam moment on Saturday.
On my drive in to Chicago on Friday – before the Cardinals series began – I had plenty of time to consider Schwarber’s trajectory, particularly in relation to the increasing calls to option him to the minor leagues (something Theo Epstein – albeit not specifically about Schwarber – expressly left on the table for young players).
My gut instinct when hearing that stuff has been, I suspect, like most of yours: get the eff outta here. This is a guy who showed such preternatural ability at the plate that he was justifiably being considered as having top tier offensive potential this season, possibly being right up there with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo at the plate.
But we should step back for a moment.
Imagine a world where Schwarber doesn’t lose a season to the knee injury. Instead, imagine this season was last season, and this is the story you have: a college bat is drafted in 2014, plays almost none in the minor leagues before reaching the big leagues the next year. He has a scorching month, then some struggles, and has a great postseason. The next year – his first full season in the big leagues after almost no minor league experience (including just 17 AAA games) – he really has difficulties. Pitchers expose some holes, and it’s taking him a while to adjust.
In that scenario, wouldn’t we expect an option to AAA to be on the table? Wouldn’t we see that as completely normal?
In other words, how much are we rebelling against this idea because it’s been an extra year since he was in the minors? Even though that year was entirely lost to a knee injury? Which arguably makes it even more justifiable to say that he might need some time at AAA to work through issues?
This is not to be read as me advocating, specifically, for Schwarber to be sent down. Instead, I offer it only as a reframing of where Schwarber stands in his development.
The actual decision on whether to option him still ultimately comes down to what Theo Epstein laid out last week: you have to consider the player’s development in conjunction with the big league team’s needs, and you have to consider what’s best in the short AND long-term for that player’s development. Sometimes, these struggles at the big league level are better for a player than going down to AAA and raking. Sometimes, the opposite is true.
Given where things stand right now, and the lengths to which the Cubs are going to help Schwarber work through his issues at the big league level, I doubt an option to the minors is at the forefront of consideration just yet. But if the struggles continue and the conversation re-emerges, you shouldn’t immediately think it a crazy discussion.
And now a mostly random, but totally crazy, thing I noticed while writing this:
Ready to have your mind blown a bit?
Kyle Schwarber hasn't had a hit on a ball in play in his last 14(!) games. Just BBs, Ks, outs and HRs.
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) June 5, 2017