Kyle Schwarber won’t be facing Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field. Because the Cubs want him catching guys like Donn Roach and Dallas Beeler at Triple-A Iowa.
That’s the big-picture question after Schwarber looked like he belonged in the big leagues – at least as a designated hitter – by going 8-for-22 (.364) with a home run and six RBI (and eight strikeouts) in six interleague games.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein called the crash course “a best-case scenario as far as how it could have went.” Now more than ever, the Cubs say they are committed to the idea of Schwarber at catcher.
“Pitchers love throwing to him,” Epstein said. “They’ve got a lot of trust in him. He creates a lot of conviction for them and the pitches that they throw. He’s getting better as a blocker. He’s doing a real nice job as a framer. (He’s) learning how to call a game. He’s got a perfect personality as a catcher and a great presence.”
Some of that might be a little exaggerated, but the Cubs appreciate Schwarber’s underrated athleticism and the football mentality that helped him become a second-team All-Ohio linebacker in high school. They’ve already seen how far he’s come since getting drafted fourth overall out of Indiana University last year.
“You want to believe the bat’s going to play. Now you want to make sure that the defense plays,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You really want the complete ballplayer that can do both things. I’m certain he’s going to put the time in. He will definitely work.
“It’s hard to teach (game-calling) on the minor-league level with a catcher (because) the information’s not the same. (Unless) a guy’s got some like innate ability just based on watching your pitcher throw – and can find maybe where the hitter’s standing in the box and set up – or just watching foul balls and how the hitters are reacting.
“Some guys might have the ability to process all that stuff. But coming from the minor leagues like I did – and being in charge of instructing catchers – it’s really hard to get the whole mental component out there while you’re struggling just to get them to be competent physically.
“You talk about developing a catcher – it’s probably not unlike developing a big-league quarterback. There’s a lot more to it than just the physical mechanics. And that’s where the separators are, the guys who can really make an impact and know what they’re doing behind the plate.”
For six days, Schwarber got valuable exposure to Maddon’s coaching staff, the team’s game-planning infrastructure and veteran catchers Miguel Montero and David Ross.
“Schwarber’s definitely capable,” Ross said. “You have to know each individual on (the other) team and how to get those guys out, where their hot zones are, where they like the ball, where they don’t like the ball. And then you got to figure out how that matches up with the pitcher on the mound, how it switches with a lefty or a righty.
“That stuff is learned, though. It’s like anything else – you got to learn those things. You got to learn hitters’ tendencies. A scouting report can give you a starting point, but when you’re in the heat of battle, guys make adjustments. You have to adjust off their adjustments. If your pitcher’s not making the pitch, you have to adjust to that.”
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That sounds like information overload for a 22-year-old catcher in the middle of his first full professional season. But Schwarber is now one phone call away at Iowa if someone gets injured. And the Cubs already planned to limit his workload behind the plate this year, meaning a move to left field could get his left-handed bat back in the lineup this summer.
“If I’m in the minor leagues and I’m thinking – Oh, when am I going to get called back up, blah blah blah? – that can really put you back into a bad way of thinking,” Schwarber said. “(That puts) you back into a slump and then you start thinking negative and acting negative toward your teammates. You just don’t want that to happen. You always want to have good mojo.”