Kyle Schwarber’s 2017 got a whole lot of attention, and for good reason. A dude who explodes onto the scene barely a year after he’s drafted (surprisingly) in the top four, helps lead the Cubs to the playoffs for the first time in seven years, then destroys all comers in those playoffs, then suffers a massive knee injury the next year, then returns (shockingly) for the World Series, where he rakes as the Cubs win their first title in 108 years. I mean, that’s a guy you’re going to follow closely the next season.
And that’s to say nothing of the fact that this masher was also set to be the team’s new leadoff hitter. That strategic attempt did not work for the Cubs or for Schwarber, who seemed to get outside himself in the first half of the season – potentially taking too many hittable pitches at the top of the order, and then trying to create all the offense himself with one swing.
But, as we’ve gone over in delicious detail, Schwarber was an entirely different hitter in the second half, after he reset himself at AAA Iowa. He’s still got work to do with two strikes, but I certainly feel good about his offensive future.
To that end, in an article that is otherwise about the Cubs’ efforts to trade for a starting pitcher (or not), Jesse Rogers notes this about Schwarber: “Chicago is counting on that character to return players such as Schwarber to elite status. Industry sources indicate that he has been on a mission this offseason to ‘transform’ his body and get back to being a hitter – not just a slugger. Since the Cubs know him so much better than any rival, there’s bound to be a disconnect between what they feel about him and what other teams see in him.”
I found that to be a particularly interesting point with respect to Schwarber, specifically. Sure, we hear about “best shape of his life” stuff constantly as Spring Training approaches, and almost without exception, it means zip when the season actually starts. To be sure: that could be the case with Schwarber, too.
But the reason it stood out to me is because of his unique trajectory, and the things he is working on. Consider that this was a still-developing youngster with almost no minor league experience who blew out his knee and missed almost all of 2016. It would be entirely reasonable for him not to be able to maximize his “baseball shape” in the offseason before 2017. Heck, he wasn’t even cleared to play in the outfield until Spring Training.
That is to say, for a guy like Schwarber, the offseason before 2018 might be especially important, not only because of the continued physical recovery (and fitness improvement), but also because his physical approach has to align with work to get him back to the overall hitter he was before 2017, and set him on a path to taking the next step in his development.
In other words, you don’t want to see body changes that work against what he is trying to accomplish as a hitter. We’ve seen it before – guys thin out too much, or add too much bulk, and it causes a myriad of unexpected and negative results, from swing changes to bat speed loss to injuries and more.
It’ll be very interesting to see what exactly is meant by “transforming” Schwarber’s body. Again, given his unique trajectory, I could see this being a very good thing for his development. But I also don’t want to put too much stock in the fitness side of things, because the baseball work will be just as important for Schwarber’s development next year.