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Cubs still don't have all the answers for Kyle Schwarber's future

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Cubs still don't have all the answers for Kyle Schwarber's future

When the Cubs take the field on Opening Day in 2016, what position will Kyle Schwarber be playing?

It doesn't take a trip in a DeLorean to predict that Schwarber will be in the lineup somewhere when the Cubs begin next season. But will he be catching? Playing left field? Right field?

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"We have to sit down and discuss that," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference Thursday at Wrigley Field. "We haven't yet. The presumption as we look toward next year is that he would continue to work as a catcher and probably get some playing time as a catcher and continue to develop and continue to learn.

"But that he would also get a lot of at-bats in the outfield with an emphasis on keeping his potent bat in the lineup. This game takes a lot of turns and we're not good enough to forecast exactly how his career is going to go in terms of what position he's going to play.

"I think keeping all the options open for as long as possible makes sense, as long as we're not doing anything that gets in the way of his development and his ability to stay in the lineup and his long-term health.

"We'll have more specific conversations about that, but I think as we sit here right now and look forward to spring training next year, you'll see him getting work both behind the plate and in the outfield."

Schwarber went through a roller coaster of a first season, going from the fourth overall pick in the 2014 Draft to making his big-league debut roughly a year later and almost instantly becoming a key cog in the Cubs' everyday lineup.

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He exploded on the scene with a 1.021 OPS through his first 36 games, but then endured a slump for the final month-plus of the regular season, hitting just .177 with a .655 OPS in the final 33 games.

Of course, he turned it on again in the playoffs, setting a Cubs franchise record for most homers in a postseason (five) while slashing .333/.419/.889 (1.308 OPS).

Schwarber drove in eight runs in nine playoff games and was a one-man wrecking crew at several points in the postseason, including three RBI in the 4-0 wild-card win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But Schwarber also had some issues defensively in the postseason, looking out of place in left field in the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets.

It's not like his defense directly cost the Cubs any wins, but it reignited the storyline headed into the offseason and the onslaught has started on Chicago talk radio with callers suggesting the Cubs should trade Schwarber to an American League team.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs will explore long-term deal for Jake Arrieta]

That's obviously a short-sighted thought and a pretty extreme overreaction given Schwarber won't even turn 23 until March and just finished his first full professional season (at any level).

But there's also the chance that Schwarber can stick behind the plate. He's driven to prove all the doubters wrong and he's already impressed the Cubs with his progress at catcher.

"There are ways to continue to develop him behind the plate," Epstein said. "We have a wonderful catching instructor at the big-league level in Mike Borzello, [Schwarber] will continue to be around [minor-league catching coordinator] Tim Cossins in spring training as well.

"Teaching, learning, developing doesn't just stop because [the kids] are in the big leagues. He's going to continue to get better and better with all the reps that he gets in spring training and during the season next year. Even the reps that aren't in games; he catches a lot of bullpens.

"It usually takes catchers three, four years at least - at least - in the minor leagues before they're ready to start the process to become a big-league catcher. He just has gotten here really soon because of his bat, his character, everything else."

In 136 innings at catcher, Schwarber was credited with -2 Defensive Runs Saved. By comparison, Miguel Montero had -2 DRS in 825 innings and 38-year-old David Ross had +5 DRS in 402.1 innings behind the plate.

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If the Cubs are going to be in the heat of contention again next season, they can't afford to give Schwarber unlimited time to develop behind the plate in the context of the 2016 regular season.

Wouldn't the Cubs be better off committing to just one position for Schwarber? Isn't having him work at both outfield and catcher something of an imperfect development?

"I'd say it is," Epstein said, "but when the alternative is sticking that kind of bat in the minor leagues until he's Johnny Bench defensively, I like the imperfect path.

"We love what he brings to the table. His personality is already a huge part of our culture. That is a prolific middle-of-the-order bat that we need at the big-league level."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

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AP

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

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USA TODAY

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

Yu Darvish now has more trips to the disabled list in a Cubs uniform than wins.

The Cubs place their 31-year-old right-handed pitcher on the DL Saturday evening with right triceps tendinitis. The move is retroactive to May 23, so he may only have to miss one turn through the rotation.

In a corresponding move, Randy Rosario was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to provide Joe Maddon with another arm in the bullpen. Tyler Chatwood will start Sunday in Darvish's place.

Thanks to two off-days on the schedule last week, the Cubs should be fine with their rotation for a little while. Jon Lester could go on regular rest Monday, but the Cubs would need to make a decision for Tuesday given Kyle Hendricks just threw Friday afternoon.

That decision could mean Mike Montgomery moving from the bullpen to the rotation for a spot start, or it could be the promotion of top prospect Adbert Alzolay from Triple-A Iowa.

Either way, this is more bad news for Darvish, who has had a rough go of it since he signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs in February.

Between issues with the weather, the concern of arm cramps in his debut in Miami, leg cramps in Atlanta, a trip to the disabled list for the flu, trouble making it out of the fifth inning and now triceps tendinitis, it's been a forgettable two months for Darvish.

He is 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings with the Cubs.

Over the course of 139 career starts, Darvish is 57-45 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.