MESA, Ariz. — Hardly any player has ridden the roller coaster of nationally-televised extremes more than Kyle Schwarber.
In 2015, his defense in left field came under heavy fire in the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets.
Last fall, Schwarber became a cult hero in the baseball world after his remarkable return from a knee injury and ridiculous production in the World Series (.400 AVG, .971 OPS) after missing more than six months.
In reality, Schwarber is not really either of those as a player and any thought otherwise is probably placing too much emphasis on a small sample size.
He probably won't ever hit .400 and it's entirely possibly he may never look as lost playing left field as he did 17 months ago against the Mets.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon has talked up Schwarber's outfield defense plenty over the last year-plus and the 24 year old proved it Thursday at Sloan Park, leaping high at the wall in left field to rob extra bases.
"He wants to do it and anything he wants to do, he does and he does it well," Maddon said. "I saw a picture of him jumping for that ball — he got up in the air a bit, too. He's athletic.
"He had a bad game or whatever in the playoffs a couple years ago and everybody's taken that one moment and built it into this negative situation. He's not. He's gonna be really good out there."
For all the credit Albert Almora Jr. gets for defense, he had 0 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in 193 innings in center field in 2016, according to FanGraphs. By the same metric, Schwarber had -3 DRS in 295.2 innings in left field in 2015.
And now Schwarber has had another two years to learn the position a bit more (when he wasn't injured, that is).
That being said, Maddon confirmed Schwarber — who will also play some catcher, though he hasn't yet appeared behind the plate this spring — will be relieved on defense quite a bit in 2017, both to keep him fresh after the devastating knee injury and to improve the outfield alignment late in games when the Cubs have the lead.
Schwarber should be used to that after Maddon inserted Chris Denorfia — who started in right field against the Cubs for the Colorado Rockies in Saturday's Cactus League game — into left regularly at the end of 2015 for defensive purposes.
This year, it will mostly likely be veteran Jon Jay coming into the game as a defensive replacement.
With Jay in left, Almora in center and four-time Gold Glover Jason Heyward in right field, the Cubs may have the ability to field one of the best defensive outfields in the game.
"It's real good," Maddon said. "All three of them are really good. It'd be very nice to have in the latter part of the game. Probably something we'll do.
"I just spoke very highly of Kyle and I do believe that, however, you still would want to improve your defense in the latter part of the game. You do that as well as take the stress off his leg.
"You may see something like that early on in the season, whereas we have a lead late, you would put Jon out there with Albert and Jason, which obviously is your best way to do it.
"But we'll wait and see how that's all gonna play out, because I know Kyle wants to play nine innings."