Kyle Schwarber is really good when it comes to striking a horsehide sphere with a round wooden club. In 130 minor league games, he had a triple-slash line of .333/.432/.610 with 31 home runs and 92 RBI. And now in just over 2 games with the Cubs, he’s 6-for-10 with 4 RBI and a beautiful opposite-field home run.
His bat (manufactured by Dinger Bats and available in ash, birch, or maple with a staggering variety of color combinations starting at $99.99) is major-league ready, about that there can be little doubt. But his defensive role is much less clear. Schwarber’s fastest path to regular playing time is in left field, but the Cubs — and the young man himself — want him behind the plate long-term.
This organization has been nothing if not calculating when it comes to the way they do things. What many saw as a reluctance to spend the necessary money on pitchers like Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, others saw as not putting the cart before the horse. When fans clamored for Kris Bryant right away, the Cubs again held firm.
Yes, they spent too much on Edwin Jackson, but that’s a view that only became clear through the corrective lenses of hindsight. At the time, it seemed like market value for a workhorse innings-eater. The Jon Lester deal has been and will be discussed ad nauseam, but the team was in a different situation and could afford to pace the market for the would-be ace.
But back to guys like Bryant, prospects who are matriculating their way through the Cubs’ system with the hopes of one day playing at the corner of Clark and Addison. That’s not only a dream of the individual players, it’s one the collective fans share. There’s little more exciting than the debut of a hot new prospect.
That was certainly the case with Kyle Schwarber, who made a bit of a dubious debut in the 9th inning of Tuesday’s game when he came in to replace the ejected Miguel Montero and later struck out on 3 pitches. But in his first start on Wednesday in Cleveland, the rookie went 4-for-5 and left Cubs fans salivating.
His compact-but-powerful swing left everyone hungry for more on Thursday night too, as he sent a 96 mph fastball into the opposite-field bleachers with no more effort than a normal man would use to swat a fly. But before you go thinking that this stint with the Cubs is anything more than an appetizer, you may want to listen again to what Theo Epstein said about his plans.
“I was shaking my head at the notion that we should make baseball decisions based on giving our fans cookies. We’re cooking the whole meal. We want to give them an annual feast. The only way to make fans happy is to give them pennant races and October baseball if you can pull it off on an annual basis. Nothing is going to get in the way of that.”
That little gastronomical nugget was actually from March…of last year. But neither Chef Theo nor sous chef Jed Hoyer have thought about changing the menu since, sticking to their proclamations that Kyle Schwarber will spend only 6 games with the big club. They don’t care that fans are pounding their silverware on the table and demanding more, and that’s a good thing.
If the masses had their druthers, Jon Herrera and Mike Baxter would be on the first thing smoking out of Chicago and Schwarber would be yelling “Hulk smash!” and putting Wrigley Field’s video boards in jeopardy from here on out. And while such cookies sound awfully tasty — like the chocolate chip variety that are still a little crispy bottom while still gooey in the center — they could ruin your dinner.
The Cubs were able to move Schwarber up two levels to help the team as a DH because they knew he could hit major league pitching. But look again at what they called the kid up to do: DH. That’s not to say he can’t or won’t play the field in the near future, but that he’s not ready to do so at a high enough level to help this team long-term.
Before I really got involved with this whole blogging thing, my perspective of the game was a bit more rudimentary that what it is now. I thought little of framing or calling a game, knew next to nothing about the nuances of catching. After all, you stick your worst athlete behind the plate at the only level of “baseball” I play anymore these days.
But as we’ve seen from Miguel Montero, and, to a lesser extent, David Ross, the role of a backstop in the majors is much more than just squatting and blocking bad pitches. You need to be able to understand your staff and call a good game, instill confidence in your pitchers and frame up their borderline offerings.
The two guys on the Cubs roster can do that right now, Schwarber can’t yet. “But the bat alone makes him more valuable than David Ross, regardless of his abilities behind the plate or rapport with Lester,” you might be saying. Perhaps, but do you want to bring a super-stud up to the majors only to see him catch every 5th day?
Even in an even split with Montero, which would make little to no sense since they’re both lefties, he’d not be getting nearly enough at-bats. “Okay then, how about putting him out in left. He’s gotta be better than Coghlan.” Again true, not to mention that Cogs is less than stellar defensively, but consider that Schwarber has played exactly zero innings in the outfield this season.
I’m not saying that you can’t hone your skills at the highest level, but sticking a guy out in left for a team that’s competing for a playoff spot isn’t necessarily the most ideal classroom. The Cubs want to give Schwarber every opportunity to spend time getting better behind the plate, though I have to assume they’ll give him reps in left as well.
That’s because Thed Epstoyer hasn’t said that Schwarber won’t be back, just that this promotion itself would only last 6 games. I fully expect him to be back up by the time rosters expand in September, and it’s a given if the Cubs are still in the hunt for the postseason. He’d be able to spell guys at a couple positions to keep them fresh as the season grinds into the fall.
Whether you were skeptical of this whole rebuild or were on board from the start, it should be clear at this point that the guys running this organization know what they’re doing. So let’s trust them on this move as well. The Cubs are going to do what they feel is best for the team and for the man they believe could be their future catcher.
So enjoy your next few cookies while you can because they’ll be gone soon enough. But the feast is coming, and if this little taste is any indication, it’s going to be incredible.