Cubs

Cubs: Kyle Schwarber feels like he's ready to catch in the big leagues

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Cubs: Kyle Schwarber feels like he's ready to catch in the big leagues

CINCINNATI - If Miguel Montero is going to miss time, Kyle Schwarber may be an option for the Cubs at catcher.

Everybody knows Schwarber's bat is ready. But is the organization's top remaining prospect ready to catch in the big leagues?

"I feel like I can do it," Schwarber said after winning MVP in the MLB Futures Game in Cincinnati on Sunday evening. "I'm not gonna have a doubt in my mind that I can't do it.

"I know I have a lot to work on and I'm going to work at it daily to get better and try to make myself not just a one-dimensional player, but the complete package."

Schwarber grew up 25 minutes from Great American Ballpark and helped lead the U.S. team to a 10-1 victory Sunday, hitting a two-run triple in front of a group of family and friends that numbered more than 100.

[MORE CUBS: Jon Lester: No more excuses after up-and-down first half with Cubs]

It's been a whirlwind year for Schwarber, who went from being the fourth overall pick in 2014 to a six-game stint in the majors last month to another dream come true Sunday, playing in the home park of his childhood team ("My eyes lit up as soon as I stepped on it").

Now, with Montero sidelined with a thumb injury, the Cubs could come calling again.

Montero has four days off now with the All-Star break, but the Cubs don't know if he'll be ready to go once they resume play in Atlanta on Friday.

Schwarber still has to answer questions about whether or not he can stick as a catcher long-term, but he thinks he's ready.

"I feel like I've improved my game," he said. "It's been a dramatic change for me. A year ago, I was at Indiana and now I'm here.

"But I still have a lot more to go. I'm still going to be working every day to get better."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Schwarber helped earn his MVP award in the Futures Game by throwing out Mariners speedster Ketel Marte trying to steal second.

"I take a lot of pride in catching," he said. "I know I got a lot of things to work on, but I'm always trying to get myself better.

"I try to work on my defense just as much as my offense."

Schwarber said his big-league experience helped calm his nerves and slow things down for the Futures Game.

Does he think he'll get another call this week to return to "The Show?"

"I don't know," Schwarber said. "It's not my decision. Like I said, I like to keep my head buried in baseball and just try to be good today. If I do that, hopefully I'll find myself in a good situation."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.