By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Kyle Schwarber, Outfielder/Catcher, Chicago Cubs
2015 season (Minors): 75 G, 257 AB, .323 BA, 16 HR, 49 RBI, 1 SB, 1.022 OPS
2015 season (Majors): 69 G, 232 AB, .246 BA, 16 HR, 43 RBI, 3 SB, .842 OPS
The Cubs had seemingly been rebuilding for years until finally, in 2015, that rebuild came together in seemingly one fell swoop. There was hype before the season with the addition of manager Joe Maddon, signing of starting pitcher Jon Lester and the hype training surrounding super prospect Kris Bryant, but nobody knew for sure if it would all come together quickly. Those three all lived up to the billing for the most part, but there were some surprises over the course of the season that led to the Cubs’ National League Championship Series run, and the relatively quick promotion and subsequent success of Kyle Schwarber was among them.
Drafted out of college with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014, Schwarber crushed three levels of A ball that year, mashing 18 homers with a .344/.428/.634 slash line in 72 games. But even with that success, it wasn’t expected that Schwarber would force his way up to the Cubs in ‘15 with so few games of pro experience. But after destroying Double-A pitching, Schwarber got a taste of the bigs with six games in mid-June. He impressed in the short stint (8-for-22, six RBIs), but the Cubs were intent on giving Schwarber some time at Triple-A. He did more of the same at Iowa, and before long, the Cubs couldn’t resist, and Schwarber was a mainstay in their lineup.
Schwarber showed no signs of regression in the bigs as far as power. While he hit just .246 after showing off a .300 bat in the Minors, his plate discipline and pop were near elite levels. His 16 home runs in 69 games was a 38-homer pace in a full season, and his 13.2 BB% (walk rate) would have ranked 16th in the Majors had he had enough plate appearances to qualify. He doesn’t swing at many pitches out of the zone, and he makes hard contact on strikes. Should he be able to adjust in his first full big league season and cut down on his swings and misses, he could maybe at least approach the .300 average, though his powerful swing is going to cause whiffs, and a .270 average with 30-plus homers is more along the right lines for his full-season projections.
There are of course questions of where Schwarber fits in the field. He appears to profile more as a designated hitter, but in the National League, the Cubs are going to have to find a spot for him. A catcher in college and in the Minors, he doesn’t profile as a full-time big league backstop, and the Cubs also want to preserve his bat and will protect him from catching too many games.
The spot right now for Schwarber appears to be in left field, though he seems to be a below average outfielder; average at best. The Cubs will deal with that if he can crush close to 40 homers while splitting time between the outfield and behind the plate (apparently mostly as Jason Hammel’s personal catcher). Look for Schwarber to join Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant as one of if not the most formidable middle of the orders in the NL.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.