MESA, Ariz. — You might have heard that Kyle Schwarber is skinny now.
Yes, it seems the “Hulk” part of Schwarber’s one-time nickname “Fast Hulk” has been rendered inaccurate after Schwarber’s well-documented physical transformation this offseason.
And so the question becomes: What do we do with the “Fast” part? Does that get to stay?
Schwarber’s bodily makeover and the accompanying lifestyle changes have Wrigleyville thinking the slugger will now become some sort of different player, a guy who can wipe away the memories of a challenging 2017 campaign in which he hit just .211 and spent a stint in the minors at Triple-A Iowa. From the ashes of the guy who made a few glaring fielding mistakes in left field shall rise a phoenix capable of Gold Glove defense. That’s the idea, right?
Schwarber’s suggesting pumping the brakes on all that. Asked how much effect getting into such good shape will have on his play, he kind of threw cold water on the notion that he’ll be someone brand new.
“I don’t think there’ll be much,” he said Friday. “Being whatever I am isn’t going to help me go out and hit .500 and 70 home runs. I’ve got to go out and perform, still, at the end of the day. It’s going to help with things I can control. Being quicker, more explosive, those are things I can control, and working on my swing, everything like that. It’s trusting your preparation and taking it into the game.”
And really, Cubs fans shouldn’t want Schwarber to change too much. Despite what was characterized for much of 2017 as a horrendous season, Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, just two behind team-leader Anthony Rizzo, and walked 59 times, third on the team behind Kris Bryant and Rizzo.
But obviously this new-look Schwarber will be able to do some new-look things, right?
“It’s definitely going to feel better,” Schwarber said. “I would say there was a lot of work that was put in just acceleration and more explosiveness throughout the offseason just to get quicker, quicker hands, explosiveness, things like that.”
“It doesn’t ensure anything, but his whole game should be a little bit quicker because of that, whether it’s defensively, base running, movement in general,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We’ll see how it pertains to hitting.”
And on defense?
“I think that’s definitely going to help, too, just being able to get quicker, more explosive first steps, just being able to get better reads,” Schwarber said. “I think it’s all going to benefit. This isn’t something that’s going to not benefit me at all. This I think’s just going to help down the road. I think it’ll be good.”
“I do believe if you just start carrying less weight, you’re probably going to feel better on your feet out there, you’re probably going to be able to do some things you might not have been able to do before,” Maddon said. “So I just think that in and of itself is going to be able to improve his defense.”
The Cubs have helped Schwarber and the other guys who had less-than-ideal 2017s in other ways. There’s a new hitting coach in town in Chili Davis, who will be tasked with getting guys like Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and more back to what they’ve done in years past.
Schwarber mentioned that he and Davis have already established a bit of a connection, with Schwarber relating to Davis starting out as a catcher and being moved to the outfield, just like he was.
“Chili’s great. I talked to him on the phone a couple times in the offseason and was able to really sit down with him and talk baseball a little bit,” Schwarber said. “The guy’s got a really great understanding of the game. He really gets that hitter’s side of the game, where he can just sit down and talk to you and go through what’s in your mindset and anything else. I’m looking forward to working with him. I think it’s going to be a great new voice.
“And to be able to listen to his story a little bit, it kind of relates to me. So I’m really excited to just work with him throughout the whole year and get that mindset down and go from there.”
In the end, baseball is a results-oriented business, and Schwarber’s transformation won’t mean much to many if his statistics don’t go through a transformation, as well. But again, even in a year seen on the outside as a disaster, Schwarber hit 30 home runs and helped the Cubs to their third straight National League Championship Series. Not too shabby.
A new body and a new focus built from what happened last year could yield new, even more positive numbers.
“You’ve got to be able to take it a day at a time. You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. You can’t beat yourself up too much, there’s always tomorrow,” Schwarber said. “You’ve just got to be able to find a way that day to help the team win. If you go 0-for-4 with four punch outs but make a great play in the outfield, That’s a great day right there.
“That’s my focus this year, just take it a day at a time, don’t worry about the end goal and just worry about just trying to help the team win that day.”
That all sounds pretty typical for a professional athlete. But given how difficult things were for Schwarber at points last season and how hard he has worked this offseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a different batch of results from a different-looking player.
“What he’s done is pretty darn impressive,” Maddon said, “and we’re all eager to watch how it plays out there and I know he’s eager to show us.”