Kyle Schwarber blocks out trade speculation to focus on recovery with Cubs

Kyle Schwarber blocks out trade speculation to focus on recovery with Cubs

Theo Epstein wanted it out there in the media, offering up a quote to beat writers last week at Citi Field, saying how he’s looking forward to Kyle Schwarber hitting a big home run in a Cubs uniform early next season.

The Cubs were in New York to play the Mets, but the Yankees still move the needle, perhaps quietly floating the idea that it would take Schwarber to swing a deal for All-Star reliever Andrew Miller. 

Schwarber heard the message loud and clear during his grueling recovery from knee surgery, even if he never discussed that part of his future directly with the president of baseball operations.

“You got to know in your own mind that rumors are rumors,” Schwarber said Wednesday inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse. “There’s always going to be rumors, and things are going to happen, but I’m going to worry about being a Cub. I can’t worry about any of that stuff.

“I’m going to worry about my rehab. I’m going to worry about this team and them winning a World Series.”

Beyond the complications in trying to move a player who underwent a procedure on his left knee that reconstructed the ACL and repaired the LCL after an outfield collision in early April, the trade speculation didn’t account for Epstein’s connection to Schwarber.

[SHOP: Buy a Kyle Schwarber jersey]

An executive who tries to stay emotionally detached believes Schwarber will someday become the leader of this team. A franchise built around youth and left-handed power won’t be selling a 23-year-old slugger who blasted 16 homers in 69 games last season and then hit five more during the playoffs.

For now, forget the talk about Schwarber being a better American League fit, because the Cubs saw more defensive upside/versatility as a catcher/outfielder than the industry’s conventional wisdom when they drafted him No. 4 overall out of Indiana University in 2014.

“It’s obviously nice that they feel like that about me,” Schwarber said. “I love this organization. I love this team. I want to stay here. But, obviously, things are out of my control. I take that to heart. It means a lot.”

Schwarber can now walk around without a crutch, and has been jogging and hopping underwater and watching the road games on TV. The Cubs allowed him to rehab in Chicago instead of the team’s Arizona complex, encouraging him to sit in the draft room and meetings with the pitching staff, more status symbols for a guy who’s only had one full season in professional baseball.

“You don’t pay attention to as much stuff when you’re playing,” Schwarber said. “You get the luxury of being on Twitter, I guess, trying to look at updates on what the team’s doing right now. But you get more respect for the game when you’re away from it.”

Epstein has already ruled out a return this year, hoping to see Schwarber in the 2017 Opening Day lineup. Cubs fans, of course, will dream about a Willis Reed moment in October.

“I’m going to work my butt off to get back as soon as I can, whatever the timetable is,” Schwarber said. “I want to do more, and I think that’s only a good mindset to have. And whatever happens, happens.”

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.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."