As if the possibility of clinching their first National League pennant in 71 years didn’t create enough drama and excitement in Wrigleyville, the Cubs have sent Kyle Schwarber to the Arizona Fall League, hoping he can add another chapter to his October legend.
Schwarber earned this chance after beating every expectation in his recovery from major surgery on his left knee in April. The Cubs haven’t ruled anything in or out – and still need to take care of business against the Los Angeles Dodgers this weekend – but they want to see how he responds on Saturday with the Mesa Solar Sox and ultimately decide if he would be a viable designated-hitter option for the World Series.
Schwarber gained clearance on Monday from Dr. Daniel Cooper, the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL after a brutal outfield collision during the first week of the regular season. Schwarber immediately phoned Theo Epstein after the six-month checkup. The Cubs president anticipated getting a better idea of when the left-handed slugger might start hitting and eventually play winter ball.
“I wasn’t expecting the call,” Epstein said. “We got news that was beyond better than we could have expected by any reasonable standard.
“He asked for a chance to do this. With as hard as Kyle has worked and as much as this means to him – and potentially to us – we wanted to give him that opportunity.”
Schwarber flew from Dallas on Monday to Los Angeles, where he hit in the cage at Dodger Stadium that night. As the NL Championship Series unfolded, Schwarber hit again on Tuesday and then left for Arizona on Wednesday to ramp up his baseball activities and prove whether or not he could again be a difference-maker in October.
Schwarber, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft out of Indiana University, generated 16 home runs in 69 games last season and then set a franchise record with five homers in the playoffs. The Cleveland Indians would have to account for that kind of lineup presence in potential World Series Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at Progressive Field, plus the pinch-hit opportunities to drive another ball onto a Wrigley Field video board.
“We’ll see where this goes,” Epstein said. “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of work to do here before this becomes pertinent on a short-term basis. But it’s a testament to how hard Kyle has worked to even be in this position where it’s a possibility.”
The Cubs still have to deal with Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night in Game 6, and then judge whether or not this layoff is too long, even for one of their best young hitters, especially against Cleveland’s dynamic bullpen.
Schwarber has been working out with a brace on his left knee, taking live batting practice on Friday in Mesa against James Farris, a Cubs prospect in the Arizona Fall League. The Cubs will have scouts watching Schwarber, who’s supposed to call Epstein and the team’s medical staff again on Saturday night with an update. The Cubs have already received good reports on Schwarber’s agility tests, watching him running, cutting and changing directions.
“He’s so passionate about baseball,” Epstein said. “He’s just been behind the scenes working his tail off and managing to stay part of the team. Physically, he’s on an accelerated timetable. And from a baseball standpoint, certainly, he’s only got about a week or so to get ready. But mentally, he’s been preparing for this for six months.
“He’s been doing advance scouting. He’s been watching how pitchers attack hitters. He’s been studying his own video. He’s been studying opposing video, so mentally he’s been preparing for this for a long time and has been itching to contribute.
“Just the fact that he’s gotten to this point is a testament to his character. He’s got everyone in the organization pulling for him.”
This is all goes back to how the Cubs drafted Schwarber when some in the industry viewed him as a DH and a reach that high in the first round, or why he became untouchable when the New York Yankees kept asking about him before trading lights-out reliever Andrew Miller to the Indians.
The Cubs will never bet against Schwarber.
“Typically guys need much longer to get their timing and get ready,” Epstein said. “But I wouldn’t put anything past Kyle.”