Even before the knee injury that cost him virtually all of the 2016 season, Kyle Schwarber’s days as a “catcher” were, at most, limited. That limitation may have been periodic (as in, he was only going to catch once a week or so as somebody’s personal catcher) and/or it may have been temporal (as in, he was only going to remain a catcher for a few more years), but in either case, it was still enjoyable to dream about having a third catcher on the roster who could actually swing in and out of the lineup in that spot to maximize production. I’m sure it was important for Schwarber to still see himself that way, too.
Then the injury happened, and no one really knew what would come next. Schwarber had to rehab, which, despite a little side project in the World Series, took him nearly up to the start of last season. From there, he was – and is – still developing defensively as a left fielder. Expecting him to do that and catch periodically in his first season back from the injury (in just his second full professional season at any level!) was too much, so the Cubs opted to keep Schwarber in an “emergency catcher” type role. Ultimately, he caught only 7.0 innings last year.
The question remained, though: with a year of additional footing under him, and some fantastic conditioning this offseason, would Schwarber go back to being maybe a once-a-week catcher?
I think we can probably safely answer that one as a “no,” and from his comments to the Tribune, it seems he will, at most, reprise his role as a left fielder who can catch in an emergency: “I think those days might be done,” Schwarber told Mark Gonzales of the possibility of catching Yu Darvish. “I might wander my way back there and see what it looks like from a catcher’s point of view.”
It may even be the case now that Schwarber doesn’t spend much time working with the pitchers and catchers, as he has in the past (when he was still primarily an outfielder).
It’s unfortunate that things played out this way, but the reality is that, even without the injury, it’s possible Schwarber would have been a full-time left fielder at this point anyway. His bat is his moneymaker, and becoming a passable catcher in a part-time role back there would have been tough. Allowing Schwarber to focus exclusively on his offense and his defense in left field may free him up to really become the quality overall player he can be.