Cubs

Cubs promoting Kyle Schwarber to The Show

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Cubs promoting Kyle Schwarber to The Show

The Cubs are making another bold, aggressive move, promoting top prospect Kyle Schwarber from Double-A Tennessee for what amounts to a crash course in The Show.

Schwarber will join the team on Tuesday at Wrigley Field, though the 22-year-old catcher won’t start against the Cleveland Indians. The Cubs will then need a designated hitter for five road games against the Indians and Minnesota Twins, and Schwarber is a huge left-handed bat with 31 homers and a 1.043 OPS through 129 career games at four different minor-league affiliates.

The plan is for Schwarber to join Triple-A Iowa after this weekend’s interleague series in Minnesota, but the experience should set him up to at least be a September call-up, if not a contributor during a pennant race.  

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

It’s been a meteoric rise for Schwarber, last year’s No. 4 overall pick out of Indiana University. He had been hitting .318 with 13 homers and 39 RBI through 57 games at Tennessee.

“Kyle has had a tremendous developmental year so far behind the plate, with the bat and as a leader,” team president Theo Epstein wrote in a prepared text message. “His next step is to continue his development as a catcher at Triple-A.

“First, however, he is going to join the major-league team for six days to contribute as a designated hitter, as a bat off the bench and as a third catcher.

“He will also use the time in the big leagues to experience first-hand all that goes into being a major-league catcher. Regardless of how this week goes, Kyle will head to Triple-A after Sunday’s game.”

[MORE: Cubs riding the ups and downs of Starlin Castro]

Manager Joe Maddon wanted Schwarber in the conversation when the Cubs discussed their options for last week’s interleague series against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park, calling it “a perfect window of opportunity.”

The Cubs didn’t promote Schwarber at that point, and there are legitimate questions about whether he will stick at catcher or eventually move to left field.

But it can’t hurt being exposed to veteran catchers Miguel Montero and David Ross, the team’s scouting/video infrastructure and the speed of the game at this level. And Schwarber has kept that door open, showing enough improvement during offseason workouts and big-league camp. 

“With all the work he’s done,” farm director Jaron Madison recently told The Des Moines Register, “we’re more certain than ever that he’s going to stay behind the plate long-term. We’re committed to that right now.”

In an entertaining season that has already seen the big-league debuts of mega-prospects Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, this news broke with a tweet from Daniel Vogelbach, the Tennessee first baseman and a Southern League All-Star:

 

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”