SURPRISE, Ariz. — At some point, the Cubs will have to account for the wear and tear on Kyle Schwarber’s body and what the grind of catching does to his offense.
But a deep, flexible team trying to win the World Series this year needs another big left-handed bat in the lineup, and one way to do that is making Schwarber a personal catcher for Jason Hammel.
“I’m comfortable with Hammel, and I think he’s comfortable with me,” Schwarber said after making two pick-off plays during Tuesday’s 9-6 Cactus League win over the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. “He’s making it easy on me back there.”
That’s Schwarber, deflecting credit, not making it about himself and going full speed ahead as a catcher/outfielder. And Hammel — who’s looked very sharp this spring (1.20 ERA and 14 strikeouts against two walks in 15 innings) — has the right disposition to work with a learning-on-the-job receiver.
If Willson Contreras is as good as advertised, then maybe this question answers itself and the young catcher who begins this season at Triple-A Iowa will earn his share of the job with Miguel Montero in 2017. But Contreras played in a Futures Game against Texas Rangers prospects on Wednesday night at Surprise Stadium and hasn’t forced the issue yet.
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No one doubts the toughness of a guy who was a second-team All-Ohio linebacker in high school. But there’s a Buster Posey Rule after the San Francisco Giants watched their most valuable player break his leg in a home-plate collision. Concussion symptoms forced Joe Mauer — the face of the franchise for the Minnesota Twins — off catcher and out to first base, and he hasn’t been the same kind of offensive force since then.
“If you’re worried about guys getting hurt constantly, that’s a bad premise to start from,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s part of the game. I don’t want them to think about getting injured ever. I want them to go play. I think if you go in with that kind of an attitude, the chances of getting hurt are less.
“It makes him more valuable by being able to do all these different things as a National League player. As an American League player, this guy’s like wired in almost every day with that (designated-hitter) slot open. But as a National League player, I think you have to be creative to keep him in the lineup hitting left-handed.
“The guy loves it. He works his butt off at it. I have no concerns.”
Schwarber doesn’t worry about taking on too many responsibilities or sacrificing his offense or getting hurt behind the plate. That’s why the Cubs believe his personality will rub off on this team and someday make him a clubhouse leader.
“That’s just the mentality,” Schwarber said. “Whatever the team wants to do, I’m going to do it. I want to help the team win in any way possible.”