Cubs

Kyle Schwarber making an instant impact for Cubs

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Kyle Schwarber making an instant impact for Cubs

CLEVELAND — Is there any potential scenario where the Cubs keep Kyle Schwarber around longer than this six-game audition?

“No,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Unless we move to the American League.”

The Cubs usually like to parse language, overthink things and keep all options open. But they haven’t left any wiggle room with Schwarber, who is maximizing his time as a designated hitter before heading to Triple-A Iowa to continue developing as a catcher.

Schwarber has already shown that he can handle big-league pitching, blasting his first home run during Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians in front of 15,891 at Progressive Field. The Cubs are getting instant offense with Schwarber, who has six hits in his first 10 at-bats in The Show, scoring five runs and driving in four more.

“It’s surprisingly not that much different,” Schwarber said. “It is better stuff. But you just got to go up there with a good approach. I’m just trying to get my pitch. And when I do get my pitch — don’t miss it.”

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Not that the Cubs had any doubts about Schwarber’s left-handed bat after watching him pile up 31 homers and 92 RBIs in his first 130 games in the minors. But keep in mind this is someone who didn’t make his professional debut until June 13 last year after getting drafted fourth overall out of Indiana University.

This is what the Cubs envisioned, Schwarber working a 3-2 count and launching Danny Salazar’s 96 mph fastball 375 feet into the left-field seats for a two-run homer in the fifth inning.

It counted after a second rain delay that lasted one hour and 16 minutes and knocked out starting pitcher Jason Hammel, who gave up three runs in four innings and labeled Schwarber as part of “the best group of young kids I’ve been around, for sure.”

“He puts the barrel on the ball real nice,” said Hammel, who pitched in the playoffs for the Colorado Rockies and Baltimore Orioles and went to the 2008 World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays.

“He’s got a very, very good approach at the plate, as you can see. It’s a tough out right now. It’s pretty impressive for a young guy that’s just come up and kind of getting his feet wet.

“We were expecting to maybe just get a look at him, but he’s actually made a pretty big impact just in the few games so far.”

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Is there any buzz in the clubhouse about lobbying to keep Schwarber around?

“Oh yeah, we always want to lobby for guys that are hitting the ball hard like he is,” Hammel said. “But that’s obviously not our realm. He’s a great kid. He’s going to be good for a long time.

“Hopefully, he stays, but obviously that’s something for the front office.”

The media flocked to Schwarber before and after his big-league debut on Monday night at Wrigley Field. Reporters did the same thing again on Wednesday inside the visiting clubhouse.

Schwarber, who grew up outside Cincinnati, had about 40 or 50 guests here in Cleveland, and he must be hearing the what-if questions from all angles.

“I always just try to keep my head buried, man,” Schwarber said. “I don’t like to think about that stuff, because that can mess with me when I’m up at the plate.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Schwarber sees the organization’s big picture and wants to finish his education at catcher. He’s not looking to transfer to left field next week, even if it meant playing against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Wrigleyville.

“(Catching is) something that I want to do, personally,” he said. “If it takes more time, it takes more time. That’s what I want to do. I’ve always done it. I have a true passion for it.”

Still, Schwarber will be only one phone call away in Des Moines, and the Cubs (35-29) will be playing to win. There will come a point — maybe in August — where he will have caught enough this season and won’t have anything left to prove as a hitter in the minors.

Until then, enjoy these three DH games against the Minnesota Twins. The Schwarber Show is coming to Target Field.

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

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USA TODAY

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

MESA, Ariz. — The frequent mission of spring training is to iron out a 25-man roster.

But at Cubs camp, that mission seems to already be completed.

With an entire Cactus League schedule still to play, the Cubs’ 25-man group that will leave Arizona for the season-opener in Miami seems pretty well set.

The starting rotation: Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.

The position-player group: Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.

The bullpen: Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing, Justin Wilson and Justin Grimm.

Boom. There’s your 25.

Joe Maddon, do you agree?

“You guys and ladies could probably write down what you’re seeing and be pretty accurate,” Maddon said Thursday. “I can’t deny that, it’s true. Oftentimes, when you’re a pretty good ball club, that is the case. When you’re not so good, you always get auditions during spring training.

“I think what the boys have done is they’ve built up a nice cache in case things were to happen. The depth is outstanding. So you could probably narrow it down, who you think’s going to be the 25, and I won’t argue that.”

It’s the latest example in a camp that to this point has been full of them that the Cubs are one of baseball’s best teams and that only a World Series championship will fulfill expectations. Had the front office stuck with a starting rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood and Montgomery, then there would’ve been a spot open in the bullpen. But the statement-making signing of Darvish jolted the Cubs into “best rotation in the game” status, sent Montgomery back to the bullpen and further locked the roster into place.

Guys like Grimm and La Stella have been forced off the 25-man roster at points in recent seasons, though even their spots seem safe. Maddon even said that a huge spring from someone else wouldn’t mean as much at what guys have done at the major league level in recent memory.

“Spring training performance, for me, it’s not very defining,” Maddon said. “You’re going to be playing against a lot of guys that aren’t going to be here, more Triple-A guys, even some Double-A guys. Some guys come in better shape, they normally look better early. The vibe’s different. You play a couple innings, you don’t get many at-bats, the pitcher doesn’t see hitters three times and vice versa. So I don’t worry about that as much.

“It’s more about, guys that might be fighting for a moment, what do they look like, does it look right, does it look good, how do they fit in? Is there somebody there that you scouted? Because what matters a lot is last year and what you did last year and the last couple months of last year.

“So of course guys that have been here probably have a bit of an upper hand, but we’re very open-minded about stuff. And I think when you look at the guys, you’re right, it’s probably pretty close to being set. But stuff happens.”

Could the recently signed Shae Simmons give Grimm an unexpected challenge for the final relief spot? Maddon said guys who have been with the Cubs in the recent past have a leg up. Could Chris Gimenez turn his experience with Darvish into a win over Caratini for the backup catcher spot? Maddon threw cold water on the "personal catcher" narrative last week.

Of course, Maddon left the door open the possibility of an injury that could open up a roster spot and even shake up the depth chart. But barring the unforeseen, this 25-man group looks locked into place.

That gives the Cubs an edge, perhaps, in that they can specifically find ways to tune up those guys rather than focus on getting enough at-bats for players who are fighting for roster spots. But most of that edge came during the winter, and in winters and summers past, when the front office built this team into a championship contender.

There have been plenty of years when the fans coming to Mesa to watch the Cubs play in spring training saw the blossoming of a big league player thanks to a monster spring or a surprise tear during March. That’s going to be unlikely this spring, a reflection of just how far this team has come.

“It’s easy for me to reflect on this because when I started out with the Rays, wow,” Maddon said. “That was a casting call trying to figure it out. You had very few settled positions when you walked in the door. And then as we got better, it became what we’re talking about. As we moved further along, you were pretty much set by the time (you got to spring training) except for one or two spots.

“So I think the better teams are like that.”

The Cubs are most definitely one of those better teams.