CINCINNATI – The future is now for Kyle Schwarber. It’s getting harder and harder to see him ever going back to Triple-A Iowa, how the Cubs could afford to take his bat out of the lineup.
Manager Joe Maddon is already planning to use Schwarber in the outfield at some point, which wouldn’t mean the end of this catching experiment. The Cubs simply need Schwarber’s offensive production.
If Schwarber keeps hitting bombs – and shows enough improvement behind the plate – who cares if the defensive metrics don’t look so great right away on Baseball Prospectus?
It could open up the possibility of moving Miguel Montero – who has a sprained left thumb and two years and $28 million left on his contract – to create some payroll flexibility and make a splash this winter.
It’s not crazy to wonder if Schwarber will be your Opening Day catcher in 2016.
“He’s definitely going to answer a lot of those questions now for next season,” Maddon said. “It definitely permits you then to plan. How do you plan? How do you acquire? How do you do – whatever – going into the next year? He’s off to a great start.”
Schwarber sat on the edge of his seat in between games of Wednesday’s day/night doubleheader at Great American Ball Park, his gray pants covered in dirt and a bottle of water in his hand.
The day after hitting the game-tying and game-winning home runs, Schwarber went 2-for-3 with a walk and drove in his team’s only run during a 9-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
The Cubs catcher of the present/future huddled with David Ross and Mike Borzello. Ross is 38 years old and seen as a potential manager as soon as he retires. Borzello is the catching instructor who gets behind-the-scenes credit for doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to breaking down opponents.
That clubhouse scene – Schwarber listening, paying attention and laughing with the guys – illustrated why the Cubs think he can be a long-term answer.
“He’s learning on the job at the highest level,” pitcher Jason Hammel said, “(without) much time in the minor leagues to really figure out how it works.
“It’s fun to work with a guy like that who really wants to get better. And you can see that. He’s all ears right now. He’s going to be good.”
Schwarber won’t always pass the eye test – or automatically get the benefit of the doubt – but Hammel quickly took the blame for one obvious miscommunication on Tuesday night. Schwarber called for a slider while Hammel wound up throwing a fastball.
“He and I were on the same page,” Hammel said. “When I shook, he went to what I wanted. That’s pretty good – to know what my Number 2 is behind my Number 1. It was pretty impressive that I didn’t really lose any rhythm. I actually crossed him up with one of the two pitches I threw to the backstop.
“I screwed up the signs (and) I felt bad, because he had been really good up until that point. And I think he felt like it was his fault, and it wasn’t – it was me.”
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Maddon already had a picture in mind before he left the Tampa Bay Rays last October and signed that five-year, $25 million contract to come to Chicago. The Rays had discussed drafting Schwarber with their first-round pick in the 2014 draft.
The Cubs grabbed Schwarber at No. 4 overall – or 16 spots ahead of the Rays – and there was a perception Theo Epstein’s front office reached for the Indiana University catcher/outfielder.
“I know the Rays wanted to draft him badly,” Maddon said. “I heard about him. I heard about what kind of a player, what kind of a hitter he was coming out of college. I just know that his name was prominent.
“The catching side of it with Schwarbs (became): When was that going to happen? I’ve been involved with two catchers in the recent past (who were in the) same boat: Johnny Jaso and Stephen Vogt, both pretty good offensive players.
“How well were they going to catch? Vogt made the All-Star team. And if Jaso had not been hurt a couple times, who knows where he would be at right now? There’s a lot of similarities among those three guys, and they’re all left-handed (hitters).”
Schwarber is hitting .429 (18-for-42) with three homers, 11 RBI and a 1.205 OPS through his first 12 games in The Show.
“Be careful what you wish for with Schwarbs,” Maddon said. “If we just wear his butt out by the end of the season, that bat will go away, I promise you.
“Let him play at his own pace. We’re going to work with him in the outfield, absolutely. I have ideas (and) we’ll just see how it goes. For right now, everybody’s euphoric about the game last night. We all are. And it was wonderful. But he’s a young man (who’s) still learning his craft.
“That’s what’s going to benefit us in September/October – not wearing people out right now, mentally and physically.”
Schwarber doesn’t want to look too far ahead, but he wants to stay at catcher and knows he can always play the outfield.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Schwarber said. “I’m going to keep working my butt off to get better defensively, and keep getting better offensively, too. My goal is to stay up here, so whatever it takes, I’m going to try to do it.”