Cubs

Do Cubs still see catching as part of Kyle Schwarber’s future?

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Do Cubs still see catching as part of Kyle Schwarber’s future?

The Kyle Schwarber question doesn’t have a simple, yes-or-no answer.

Can he catch in the big leagues? Sure, maybe, probably not.

It all depends on a team with World Series expectations, a learning curve that’s incredibly demanding and a player who didn’t have a single professional at-bat above the Class-A level at this time last year.

The Cubs have always been more bullish on Schwarber than the industry consensus, getting the last laugh after draft experts wondered why they reached for a designated hitter with the fourth overall pick in 2014.

Schwarber made his big-league debut the following June, slugging 16 home runs in 69 games last season and then hitting five more bombs in the playoffs, including the ball that landed on a Wrigley Field video board (which turned into a goofy story for the Chicago media).

The Cubs still owe Miguel Montero $28 million across the next two years, David Ross is about to begin his farewell tour and Willson Contreras has emerged as a frontline catching prospect. A strong season at Triple-A Iowa could have Contreras ready for Chicago by 2017. The Cubs can’t afford to let Schwarber work on the art of catching in Des Moines.

“As far as I’m concerned, he’s a catcher,” catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello said. “I’m not letting that go until Joe (Maddon) or Theo (Epstein) says he’s not a catcher. That’s where I see Kyle Schwarber being the most impactful on this team – behind the plate at some point. I think he’s capable of it. I think he wants to do it. And his baseball IQ is off the charts.”

[RELATED: Theo on DH: 'We can't count on it']

Maddon’s coaching staff and Epstein’s front office love Schwarber for his energy, enthusiasm and blue-collar attitude. He’s spent most of the offseason working out in Tampa, Fla., doing yoga to increase his flexibility and agility drills to create more explosiveness.

Yes, there were times where Schwarber looked awkward trying to play left field during a National League Championship Series the New York Mets never trailed in and swept by a 21-8 aggregate score.

But it also takes unbelievable rhythm, timing and hand-eye coordination to bash like Schwarber, who had been a second-team All-Ohio linebacker in high school before going to Indiana University.

“It’s no secret, the kid can hit,” said bench coach Dave Martinez, who works with the team’s outfielders. “We love putting him in the lineup, there’s no question about that. What you guys don’t know is this kid is unbelievably athletic.

“He wants to steal bases. He comes up to me all the time and says: ‘Hey, let me steal, let me steal, let me steal.’ Relax, baby steps. But this guy is a team player. He’ll do anything we ask him to do. Of course, he wants to do both. He thinks he can catch and play the outfield.”

During last week’s Cubs Convention events, Martinez noticed how Schwarber shadowed the three-time Gold Glove outfielder with the new $184 million contract.

“I watched Schwarber hang with Jason Heyward and pick his brain about playing the outfield,” Martinez said. “(Schwarber) knows he’s got a lot of work to do. He’s willing to put in the time, both in catching and the outfield.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Is there enough time for on-the-job training with a team that FanGraphs projects will finish with the best record in baseball?

Borzello worked on Joe Torre’s New York Yankees teams that won four World Series titles between 1996 and 2000. Jorge Posada, a premier offensive catcher in The Bronx, didn’t really begin to contribute until his age-25 season in 1997, when Joe Girardi still caught 111 games. It took three more years before Posada blossomed into an All-Star who would get 600-plus plate appearances and play more than 112 games.

“Yeah, I think he can catch,” Borzello said of Schwarber, who will turn 23 during spring training. “He just needs the reps. And it’s up to Theo and (general manager) Jed (Hoyer) to decide what they want to do as far as the wear and tear from that position, and (how) they think that will effect the long-term offense.

“Can he do it? Yeah, he can certainly do it cerebrally. And physically, we would have to find out.”

This is an interesting big-picture question. But the reality is no one will care about Schwarber’s UZR or pitch-framing finesse when he’s crushing the ball out toward the Allegheny River, the way he did during that unforgettable wild-card win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

“I love the work, man,” Schwarber said. “Whatever the team wants me to do – that’s going to be what it comes down to. I feel like (I) have to get better at those positions to continue on and help this team win. So whatever it is – whatever they want me to do – I’m all-in and all for it.”

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.