Shortly after the news of Kyle Schwarber’s demotion to Triple-A Iowa, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein spoke about the move (and other things) in an interview with The Spiegel and Parkins Show on 670 The Score.
Epstein seemed surprised by Schwarber’s struggles, but also remained confident and optimistic that he would return to form as an all-around hitter, and not the just the slugger he was turning into during his slump.
Here are some of the highlights from Epstein’s interview.
- Schwarber looked to be turning a corner recently, posting a .354 wOBA and 119 wRC+ in 55 plate appearances in June. Still, the overall numbers (.171/.295/.378) weren’t cutting it. So, why now? Epstein said there were meetings with the front office and coaching staff about the move, which he said the team was open to as they tried to find what was the right move for Schwarber, and the team. Epstein made note that there were “swing issues” and fundamental things Schwarber has been working on since earlier in the season that simply haven’t come around.
- One of the main takeaways from Epstein’s interview was that the team had seen a mechanical flaw that had been holding him down and transforming his hitting style. “These days he looks more like slugger than hitter, and Kyle’s a hitter first,” Epstein said. “He’s a hitter first who has power, but it’s gotten away from him, and we have zero doubt that this will be good for him.” Epstein said he wanted to see Schwarber lock in his swing mechanics and mental approach, and when he does, he expects Schwarber to come back as a hitter, and not just a slugger.
- As for the mental aspect, Epstein noted that it was becoming difficult for Schwarber to take what he was working on in the cage and take it out into the field. To that end, Epstein said he encouraged Schwarber to take a few days away from baseball, in part because of how hard he has been on himself. So it sounds like we shouldn’t expect Schwarber to be in the Iowa Cubs’ lineup tonight.
- Another note that could fall into the “mental approach” column, Epstein said he doesn’t believe Schwarber hitting lead-off affected him negatively, but wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility.
- As for Epstein’s message to Schwarber: “This is an investment in you … we need you … you just need to find yourself again.”
- So how long will the demotion last? “Until he’s himself again. I’m not going to put any limits on it one way or the other,” Epstein said. “Knowing him, how hard he’s going to work, and how talented he is, I wouldn’t expect it to be too long.” As for when the team will know when Schwarber is ready, Epstein said it won’t be about how many home runs he’s hitting, adding that it will be more about consistency in Schwarber’s approach, how he attacks different parts of the strike zone, and hitting hard-hit balls all over the field. And if that was to happen, it would likely be a sign that Schwarber had worked through some of the bad habits that crept in that had Schwarber becoming pull-happy and hitting balls on the ground.
- Epstein said this decision wasn’t tough, fun, or complicated as he tried to view it through the lens of what’s best for the player and organization. No emotional ties were taken into consideration. What was taken into consideration was timing, especially since the Cubs were set to face three left-handed starters in the next five days, as well as Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Epstein admitted that this stretch of games might not be the best working environment for a player working through mechanical issues.
- Epstein drew some interesting parallels in having to send Schwarber down. He evoked the names of Mike Trout, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones as players who were highly touted prospects (all but Davis were first-round picks) who rose through the minors quickly, had their share of struggles in The Show, were sent to the minors to work on some things, but eventually returned and played at a high level.
- As for the player who could replace Schwarber in the lineup, Epstein said Mark Zagunis is “as hot as any hitter in pro baseball” right now. In his last 10 games, Zagunis is slashing .250/.372/.528 with a 16.3 BB% against an 18.6 K%. He was the Cubs’ third-round pick in the 2014 draft, which puts him in the same draft class as Schwarber. Zagunis controls the strike zone (.399 OBP), and while Epstein admits Zagunis “isn’t fully ready” to come up and be an immediate middle of the lineup force, he is “ready to come up and have quality, grinding at-bats.”
- Epstein also offered up a bit of an update on the status of pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who was put on the disabled list with a hand injury. While Epstein wouldn’t give a specific timeline, he said a lot of progress has been made, but the team won’t let him throw until he’s 100 percent symptom free. Epstein described the Cubs as stubborn in this process, adding that if the team wasn’t quite in that frame of mind, Hendricks would have been throwing as soon as Wednesday.