PHILADELPHIA – Kyle Schwarber delivered one of the season’s classic moments when he tripped turning at first base, signaled safe with his arms and got up to continue his home-run trot.
That summed up the youthful exuberance around the Cubs, Schwarber hitting two bombs in Game 2 of Friday’s doubleheader sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies and homering again in Saturday’s 7-5 walk-off loss at Citizens Bank Park.
That also showed why the Cubs haven’t completely given up on this catching experiment. Schwarber is willing to get dirty and not afraid to look bad.
“The fact that he wants to catch is a really big deal,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “A lot of guys catch through college, catch through the minor leagues. They don’t love it. And I think that’s a really limiting factor to being really good at it.
“That’s a position where you have to sit there in the film room and study like crazy. You have to be willing to take the pounding necessary to do it. And he wants to do it. We believe in him.”
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Still, it’s hard to see Schwarber catching 120 games in 2016, when the Cubs might be a World Series favorite on paper after adding another frontline pitcher to go with Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and a talented collection of young position players.
The Cubs aren’t necessarily counting on him for next year, but Willson Contreras could become part of that nucleus. Contreras – a 23-year-old catcher with a strong defensive background – opened eyes with an offensive breakthrough at Double-A Tennessee that saw him win the Southern League batting title (.333).
“What a great, great year,” Hoyer said. “It says a lot about a guy’s makeup to be able to go out there on the last day and go 4-for-4 (to clinch it).”
Contreras – who signed with the organization almost six years ago out of Venezuela – finished with eight homers, 34 doubles, 75 RBI and an .891 OPS (which represented a 212-point bump from the season before at advanced Class-A Daytona).
The Cubs plan to add Contreras to the 40-man roster this winter, invite him to big-league camp and let him continue to develop at Triple-A Iowa next season.
The Cubs owe Miguel Montero – a two-time All-Star catcher – $28 million across the next two seasons. David Ross, Lester’s personal catcher, still has one year left on his deal at $2.25 million. The Cubs can’t afford to keep Schwarber’s left-handed bat (16 homers, 42 RBI in 52 games) out of the lineup.
“Obviously, he’s not at the level of guys like Montero and Ross to this point,” Hoyer said. “Those guys have done it in the big leagues for a long time. But we think he can certainly get there.
“The fact that we put him out in left field when Miggy got back (from an injury) – that says nothing about how we feel about him as a catcher. It’s more to get more offense in the lineup.”
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Schwarber made his feelings known during his junior season at Indiana University, when he met with Cubs officials at the team’s spring-training complex in Arizona a few months before the 2014 draft: “It really f------ pisses me off when people say I can’t catch.”
“I do think it’s an option down the road, because he’s committed to it,” said vice president Jason McLeod, who oversees scouting and player development. “Kyle’s a guy that’s very driven (and) we have invested a lot of time with him with (catching instructors) Mike Borzello and Tim Cossins.
“He continues to do the work pregame, before the gates are open, but people don’t see it. That’s still to be determined. But right now, it looks like he’s in a pretty good spot.
“Ultimately, what’s best for the team is where he’s going to end up.”
That question will be central to how the Cubs attack this offseason. Move Montero to clear salary? Trade Contreras for pitching? Avoid making a commitment to a corner outfielder? Either way, Schwarber should be a building block for years to come.