Chicago Cubs: Kyle Schwarber
"Ultimately, for us, that's where the greatest impact lies," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday. "When you can put that left-handed bat behind the plate, that's something we have to try."
The easier route would be to have him play left field. He played both catcher and outfield this summer, but he wants to continue his career behind the plate.
"It's my job to prove that I can," Schwarber said. "I have a passion for catching. I feel like if I can do that, I can help out in a lot of different situations. I'll do whatever they want me to do."
Schwarber and his family were guests on the field during batting practice before the Cubs played the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, and the stocky lefty took some swings with his future teammates.
"It was fun," he said afterward. "Happy to be out there [and] getting to know the guys."
The luxury of a dangerous, left-hitting catcher would be a huge asset for the Cubs. It would leave the outfield open for others while putting a big bat behind the plate. Not many teams have that, so the benefit of trying outweighs the downside of any delay to the start of Schwarber's major-league career. Epstein said Schwarber proved it was worth a shot with his improvement behind the plate throughout the summer.
"He probably had more catching instruction as a pro than he had in a long time," Epstein said. "This will be a catching crash course for him in [instructional league]. [We] think he'll respond to it well."
Instead of going to the more competitive Arizona Fall League, Schwarber will report to the instructional league for hands-on training. It'll be a controlled environment in which he'll learn the craft of catching, from calling a game to blocking balls in the dirt.
There were signs of progress throughout the summer.
"Once you show that, then it's in there," Epstein said. "It didn't necessarily come out all the time, but once you show that physical ability, it means if you work hard and get the right coaching and improve, it's in there. And it can come out."
Said Schwarber: "I feel like I made tremendous strides between college and this offseason."
Two things Epstein has been certain of since the December is Schwarber's bat and makeup. In some ways, he has been more sure of Schwarber in the clubhouse than on the field.
"Players are drawn to him," Epstein said. "He has leadership qualities and a big personality. And a special bat. He sees the ball incredibly well."
Like any top pick in his situation, Schwarber is just taking it in. He took pictures on the field with his parents and roped line drives in batting practice. He'll give catching a real shot this fall, and then next year -- most likely at Double-A -- see where things fall.
"I know they have the best interests for me and everyone else," Schwarber said. "That's what I truly believe. Whenever they tell me to come on up, I'll be more than ready. They knew what the talent was, but they believed in me as a person."
"In the world of trade deadlines, that’s a fair amount of time," general manager Jed Hoyer joked afterward.
Here’s some fallout from the move:
Schwarber effect: Hoyer was asked if the addition of the switch-hitting Caratini to Class A Kane County meant a permanent position change for Class A Daytona catcher and 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber.
"No, he’s catching less, but that’s more to rest him after a long season." Hoyer said. "He'll do a lot of catching in instructional league. This does not affect him."
Pitcher Felix Doubront: The lefty starter/reliever was acquired for a player to be named later from the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday but is going on the disabled list with calf soreness.
"Sometimes, guys need a change of scenery," Hoyer said. "He’s been struggling. That's no secret. Different ballpark, different league. Hope that clicks together."
Doubront is 2-4 with a 6.07 ERA in 17 games, including 10 starts, this season. The Cubs plan to use him as a starter once he comes off the disabled list, most likely at Triple-A Iowa.
Pitcher Dan Straily: Acquired from the Oakland Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija deal, Straily's struggles were likened by Hoyer to Doubront's in that both have had success previously in the majors, though not this season.
"Straily not that much different than Doubront," Hoyer said of the right-hander. "He’s not having as strong a year. We know he can do it in the big leagues. We just need to get him back to that point."
Straily is 0-3 with a 5.85 ERA in four starts for Triple-A Iowa.
Cespedes/Milone: Hoyer was asked if there were any talks about outfielder Yoenis Cespedes or pitcher Tommy Milone, both of whom were traded by the Athletics on Thursday.
"[Our] deal with Oakland was pretty defined," Hoyer said.
In other words, minor league shortstop Addison Russell was the Cubs' target.
Waiver deals: Starting Friday, teams can put players through waivers, and if they clear, they can still be traded.
"We've already started work on that," Hoyer said. "That starts up tomorrow. I don’t know what’s going to happen in August."
Kyuji Fujikawa: His rehab stint is almost over, and the Cubs will soon recall the right-handed reliever, who has been recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Russell on playing in a pennant race: "That will be exciting. Something I’ve never experienced," the 28-year-old lefty said of joining the Braves, who are in the thick of the National League East and wild-card chases. "I’m sure there will be a lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotion. It will be fine. I'll see what I’m made out of."
Most meaningful, arguably, was the weekend of 2011 first-rounder Javier Baez. Not making the Triple-A All-Star team didn’t slow him down. Baez, who hit a home run in the Futures Game last Sunday, went 8-for-20 (.400) with two home runs this past weekend while playing second base for the first time since spring training. Baez could be feeling a promotion to the big leagues might be in the offing if he keeps it up. Both Junior Lake last season and Arismendy Alcantara this year started playing other positions in advance of getting promoted to the Cubs. Starlin Castro has Baez’s position in the majors, so to get promoted he’ll have to play elsewhere.
Baez has hit in 14 consecutive games, and while he accounted for exactly 10 hits in the first 10 games of that streak, now he’s stringing together multi-hit games. He had three singles on Sunday, for example. The one concern -- once again -- might be his strikeout-to-walk total. It was heading in the right direction, but over the last nine games he hasn’t earned a free pass while striking out seven times. But is that even a concern if a player is hot? For the season it’s 112 strikeouts to 28 walks for Baez but his batting average is “up” to .252.
Next in importance might be 2012 top pick Albert Almora's weekend for Single-A Daytona. If Baez is waiting on a call for a promotion so might be Almora. His would be to Double-A Tennessee, where many expected him to be playing by now. Almora is 7-for-19 (.368) since last Thursday, including a four-hit day on Sunday. And it wasn’t long before that he hit for the cycle as his slow start to the year seems a thing of the past. Almora also has a walks-to-strikeout issue as he’s only earned a free pass 12 times in 376 plate appearances. His 45 strikeouts are fine, but not if he’s only walking 12 times. So just like Baez, the Cubs will have to work that into the equation of a hot hitter.
Rounding out the positive weekend for top picks are 2013 and 2014 sluggers Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. Both earned promotions relatively recently, so another one isn’t expected soon, but both continue to rake. Bryant was 6-for-19 (.316) with two home runs taking over sole possession of home run leader (33) in all of the minors. Schwarber is settling in nicely at Daytona after a 7-for-20 (.350) weekend (since Thursday), which included a home run.
If you’re keeping track at home then promotions for Baez and Almora should be the next order of business. It’s not a sexy phrase but you hear the Cubs use it all the time: plate discipline. Does either player have enough of it to warrant a step up in class?
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Schwarber's bat has vaulted him from low-A Boise to Kane County to high-A Daytona in just a little over a month. At 6 feet tall and 235 pounds, the kid the Hoosier faithful affectionately nicknamed Hulk has posted a .398/.479/.707 slash line with nine home runs and nine doubles in 33 minor league games.
But it's his play behind the plate that has garnered some attention of late.
"The early returns have been a little surprising as to how positive it's been for him [behind the plate]," said one NL scout. "[It's] hard to know what to make of that; obviously it's gonna be dictated a little bit by what's the need of the team going forward. It still might not make a ton of sense going forward, but that bat as a catcher is an unworldly profile."
With some interesting players at Indiana over the past few seasons, the Cubs have had eyes on Schwarber since his freshman year, something that's rare for amateur talent. His sophomore season didn't engender much confidence that he'd be sticking behind the plate, and his time with Team USA was spent in the outfield or as the designated hitter. The Cubs continued to watch the young slugger this spring; he had cleaned up his act at catcher, but he still had some inconsistencies on a week-to-week basis. One thing was clear: Schwarber was highly motivated to prove he'd be a good catcher when the Cubs brought him into the organization. The positive reviews of his skills behind the plate, which had been more frequent during the spring, only increased.
One may wonder why it wouldn't make sense for the Cubs to keep Schwarber behind the plate, considering not only their need for catching in the system, but also the general lack of plus-offensive catchers in all of baseball.
One reason is the change in his developmental timeline. Schwarber is clearly a bat-first prospect and having him continue to hone his skills behind the plate will slow his rise through the system and could also inhibit the development of his bat.
With the Cubs hoping to have a window of contention opening in 2016, the team could decide just to place Schwarber in left -- where they're very confident the former linebacker has the athleticism to stick in the long term -- and let his bat continue to carry him through the system. Under that thought process, Schwarber, whose realistic best-case-scenario trajectory is likely about a year behind top prospect Kris Bryant, could possibly be ready for a midseason 2016 call-up. One could argue that Bryant is ready to contribute at the big league level just a year after being drafted, so suggesting Schwarber may be ready two years after his draft isn't too far off base.
Bryant hasn't been called up this season due to development and service-time issues, but the Cubs hope the situation is quite a bit different by the summer of 2016. Rather than making a trade, the Cubs could decide that it makes sense to call up Schwarber even before the front office is absolutely certain he's ready because it's time to win at the big league level, and he's their best option to help the team win.
But the bottom line is the Cubs don't have to make a decision on Schwarber's position just yet. They can continue to let him get some time behind the plate once or twice a week in Daytona while they evaluate his progress. The offseason is when the process of deciding whether to put Schwarber on the fast track or to go full-bore on his development as a catcher likely starts. Right now, it's difficult to figure out how Schwarber will trend behind the plate and, if he can really stick back there, how good he can actually be. The fact remains that catching is the least likely place Schwarber will end up, but the chance that he'll stay a catcher has gone from near zero to at least a possibility the organization is considering.
“Schwarber isn't going to put up a fight with whatever the team decides. He's willing to do whatever they believe is best for him.
The early returns have been a little surprising as to how positive it's been for him (behind the plate). (It's) hard to know what to make of that, obviously it's gonna be dictated a little bit by what's the need of the team going forward. It still might not make a ton of sense going forward, but that bat as a catcher is an unworldly profile.” -- An NL scout on Kyle Schwarber
"What the organization wants me to do, I'm gonna be more than happy to do," Schwarber said. "If they want me to stick back there and catch, I'm more than happy to do that. If they want me to play left, I'm more than happy to do that as well. It's more about what they want me to do, and I'm gonna do it to my fullest ability."
Scouts rave about Schwarber's calm and under-control approach in the batter's box. Everything he does at the plate has always come naturally to him and he has a very advanced control of the strike zone, both in terms of drawing walks and avoiding strikeouts.
"Hitting's a big thing in what I like to do, and I take pride in being able to recognize things that some people might not," Schwarber said. "I really like to hound myself on getting my pitch. You might only get a pitch once or twice an at-bat, and that's when you really got to focus on getting your pitch and not missing it. You're gonna miss it sometimes, you gotta accept that. Good hitters succeed three out of 10 times. You just gotta really hound yourself on getting your pitch and take advantage of it."
Schwarber's success at the plate comes with a short swing to the ball that generates easy power. Often power hitters at the college level are max-effort guys with some swing-and-miss in their game, which scouts expect to be exacerbated at the pro level. Schwarber is the opposite of that, with an advanced, simple approach that talent evaluators expect will be applied rather quickly at the pro level. And the early stats are proving that assumption to be quite accurate.
"He's more of a guy who's a really good hitter who just has really good bat speed," said one scouting director. "Instead of being a power-first guy, he's really a hit-first guy with
raw power, so the balls he hits well just go out of the ballpark."
Whether it's at catcher or left field has yet to be determined, but once again, the Cubs appear to have come away from the draft not only with another top-tier bat, but with someone who could add yet another positive presence in the clubhouse. With the resurgence of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, the dynamic debut of Arismendy Alcantara, as well as two of the best power prospects in the game in Bryant and Javier Baez, it's not too hard to dream of a Cubs lineup in the near future that gives opposing pitching staffs nightmares.
"Being at Indiana and losing on a walk-off in the [NCAA] regionals," Schwarber said after Single-A Kane County lost to Beloit 3-2, "then four days later being drafted by the Cubs, then going out to Chicago two days after that to get a physical done and the next day fly out to Boise and spend five days there. Now I'm finally trying to settle down. It's been great, and I love it."
Schwarber hasn't done that yet, but he has done just about everything else at the plate since being drafted in June. He batted .361 with a .448 on-base percentage, four home runs and 15 RBIs in just 23 games at Kane County. That's not unlike the immediate success of 2013 first-round pick Kris Bryant after he was taken No. 2 overall. The difference is Schwarber has a head start on his career as he signed a contract -- and started playing -- immediately after being drafted. Bryant nearly waited until a mid-July deadline.
"I'm getting a little taste of it right now," Schwarber said. "It's great to play every day. I'm thankful to the Cubs for giving me a chance to get to my ultimate goal, playing professional ball at the highest point."
He got one step closer Monday, which was one of his worst days as a pro. Schwarber went 0-for-4 against Beloit. Watching him at the plate, you wouldn't know he was the fourth overall choice in the amateur draft. But that was just one day.
"It happens," he said. "O-fers are going to happen. I have to realize that. Can't be too negative on yourself because that will hurt you sometimes. ... It's a little bit rougher on me because I pride myself on my hitting. But this is a new ballgame here."
Schwarber didn't mention many specific differences between college and the pros. Maybe that's why he's hitting a combined .408 between his time in the Midwest League at Boise and Kane County.
The Cubs believed he "was ready for the competition in the Florida State League," according to one official. The biggest remaining question is about his defense: Where will he play long term?
"I love catching," Schwarber said. "If they want me to do something else, [that's fine]. Right now it sounds like I'm going to get a lot of reps at catcher."
At Kane County, he played nine games at catcher, eight in the outfield and was the designated hitter for six. In other words, it's still not determined where he fits in and won't be until at least this offseason. The Cubs have said a decision will be made at that point, but Schwarber is aware a good hitting catcher is a nice commodity to have at the major league level.
"I realize that, and I want to get better defensively," he said. "But the outfield isn't foreign to me."
Maybe the biggest surprise for Schwarber so far is how his teammates have treated him. It isn't always easy being the new guy in town, let alone one who is an instant millionaire the moment he's drafted.
"I thought it was going to be a lot different," he said, "being the new guy and especially being picked first. It could have been a different story for everyone."
He won't have the problem of being the only first-round pick on the team anymore, as Almora has been just as highly touted since being taken sixth overall in 2012. Schwarber and Almora have been described as potential future leaders due to their personality (Schwarber) and high baseball IQ (Almora). Now they'll play together.
Almora started out slow this season as the Cubs asked him to do a little more at the plate -- much like they asked Starlin Castro last season. Once Almora settled back in, the numbers have gone in the right direction. He is batting .383 in July and has doubled his season home run total with three homers this month.
Schwarber has kept track of it all from a distance. Now he'll get a closer look. Asked how much he keeps up with the other top picks and promotions within the organization, including Arismendy Alcantara's recent rise to the big leagues, Schwarber said: "They're being good role models for all of us. Shows what hard work does."
Baez went deep in the sixth inning, but Texas Rangers Double-A prospect Joey Gallo won MVP honors with his home run to help the U.S team to a 3-2 win over the World squad. Gallo is tied for the minor-league lead in home runs (31) with Cubs prospect Kris Bryant. Bryant went 0-for-3 in the Futures Game with two strikeouts.
Baez and Bryant are off until their Iowa Cubs season resumes after the Triple-A All-Star game on Wednesday. Bryant already played in the Double-A All-Star game last month. Baez didn't make the team after a slow start to his season. He has picked up the pace in recent weeks finishing the first half on a 10-game hitting streak, though he has exactly 10 hits in those 10 games. Baez is batting .240 with 14 home runs and 47 RBIs for the season.
Soler breaks out
Double-A outfielder Jorge Soler is finally healthy and on a rampage since returning to Tennessee's lineup following a long rehab for hamstring issues. He was 3-for-5 with two home runs Sunday, and in seven games since returning he's 12-for-23 (.521) with five home runs. If Soler can stay healthy, he'll probably finish the year in Double-A with a chance to make it to Triple-A at the start of next season. Health is his main concern right now.
Single-A Kane County continued a monstrous season by sweeping a doubleheader over Beloit on Sunday and improving to 62-31. This year's first-round pick, Kyle Schwarber, was 3-for-6 on the day raising his batting average to .380. Highly regarded starter Jen-Ho Tseng threw a complete game (seven innings) to improve to 4-0 while lowering his ERA to 2.74. He struck seven without giving up a walk.
And just to put the icing on the cake, newly recalled Cubs infielder/outfielder Arismendy Alcantara hit his first major league home run in the Cubs' 10-7 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. Alcantara has five extra-base hits in five games for the Cubs since being promoted from Triple-A on Wednesday. Alcantara will stay with the Cubs through the week missing the Triple-A All-Star game.
It is when you consider that Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are having All-Star-type seasons, as both entered with their doubters. Their resurgence alone gives better hope for the Cubs' future -- something you couldn’t say a year ago. All the hype we keep hearing about the farm system is on the verge of paying off. Or at least it’s on the verge of showing us what the prospects are all about.
No, we won’t see Kris Bryant at Wrigley Field this year, and there’s a chance we won’t see Javier Baez either. That’s all right. As has been said many times, no player’s development was ever hurt by spending too much time in the minors. And we are at least finally getting to see some of the fruits of the Cubs' labor down there. If you had 41st-round pick Dallas Beeler making his debut before some of the other, more heralded prospects, you knew something the rest of us didn’t.
It was one start on one afternoon, which he didn’t even win, but Beeler was a sign of hope Saturday when he gave up one unearned run over six innings in a 3-0 loss to the Washington Nationals. The 25-year-old right-hander is the first of a slew of names that will be here soon enough.
“They’re good,” Beeler said of his teammates at Triple-A Iowa. “They’re good. It’s fun to pitch behind them, knowing you have that good of players in the field, and when they come up to bat, there’s always that chance for that big surprise. You never know when it’s going to come, but it comes often.”
Beeler played with Bryant in the Arizona Fall League and at Triple-A Iowa, where the third baseman picked up where he left off in Double-A: smashing baseballs.
“Awesome,” Beeler said. “They're excellent players, unbelievable ballplayers. You can't put into words. You feel you're watching future Hall of Famers when you see them play.”
That kind of sounds like he’s talking about one player in particular. Baez might not have that same feel he had when he was ripping it up in spring training, but Bryant certainly does. And don’t forget about 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber. Cubs president Theo Epstein sounds even higher on him than he was on Bryant last year at this time. If Bryant is Epstein's Jacoby Ellsbury, then Schwarber might be his Dustin Pedroia. The straw that stirs the entire clubhouse. And Beeler isn’t even the most touted pitching prospect. That could go to Arodys Vizcaino or Kyle Hendricks.
What does all this mean? Not much for the Cubs in the coming second half, but hopefully for next year and beyond. As noted in this blog, the Cubs' turnaround won’t look as gradual as it really is. Ninety losses will turn into 90 wins quickly -- if things go right.
“There’s been parity for a number of years,” Epstein said. “Once the television numbers got into the game, [it] allowed the smaller markets to tie up their young talent, some of the [collective bargaining agreement] changes. You’ve seen increased parity in the league.”
That means the Cubs can pull off what the Milwaukee Brewers are doing right now. Or the Toronto Blue Jays. Or the Seattle Mariners. But unlike those teams -- potentially -- the Cubs plan on sticking around for a number of years instead of getting that one- or two-season surge. The rebuild has been slow, but contending might not be. Yes, the Cubs will have to spend money like those other clubs have, but one headache at time.
So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, the Cubs will have to settle for competing in the minors. Triple-A Iowa has been on a streak since you-know-who arrived and are closing in on first place in the Pacific Coast League's American Northern Division. The Cubs were pleased their top guns got a chance to feel playoff baseball at Single-A Daytona last year, when it won the Florida State League championship.
Now it might be Iowa’s turn. At that point, several apprenticeships should be complete -- or close to it. So take a deep breath and allow Epstein to work his July magic one more time.
You’ve always got Iowa to follow.
“The locker room is always positive,” Beeler said. “It’s a good team down there.”
That will do for now.
"I don't foresee a scenario where he would be up this year," Epstein said Friday before the Cubs played the Pittsburgh Pirates. "I don't think it's the right thing to do in someone's first full professional season, barring extraordinary circumstances, both in terms of the player and what's going on with the big league team."
"He accomplished a lot of the developmental goals we set out for him at Double-A," Epstein said. "We felt like a promotion to Triple-A to continue to challenge him would be good for him in the long run. He still has some things to work on, but seeing some more advance pitching ... will be good for him. It's the next step in his development.
"It would be a tremendous accomplishment to dominate Double-A, then go to Triple-A and continue his development and stay healthy all year and be productive all year. If we can look back and say he did all those things in his first pro season, we would be thrilled."
As for Bryant's defensive position, he'll remain at third base for the time being, where he's made 20 errors in 99 games over two summers. Epstein indicated a position switch would be based on the needs of the Cubs at the time. Right field would be a possibility.
Epstein also said that 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber will play mostly in the outfield this summer, although he was a catcher in college. Schwarber was promoted to Single-A Kane County earlier this week.
"We'll have him see a lot of time in left field, have him catch about once a week, maybe twice a week, DH some so we can keep his bat in the lineup," Epstein said. "We'll sit down at the end of the minor league season and see whether that's an appropriate time to make a [position] call."
The Cubs love Schwarber's bat. In his first five games as a professional, he hit three home runs for the Boise Hawks in the Northwest League before being moved up. His bat might tell the story of where he plays, considering a catcher takes more time to get to the major leagues due to defensive responsibilities.
"If we decide he looks good in left field, and his development path with the bat might be so fast that there's not going to be time for the defense behind the plate to catch up, then we might even go in another direction and be a candidate for the [Arizona] Fall League like Bryant was last year," Epstein said.
The bigger steps in the rebuilding organization came when they promoted slugger Kris Bryant, along with pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Armando Rivero, to Triple-A Iowa. A smaller step happened the day before when 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber was sent to Class A Kane County after ripping up Northwest League pitching for a few days.
The only drawback to a Baez and Bryant September call-up involves service time. A player who accrues 172 days on the 25-man roster during the season uses up a year toward free agency. There's about 183 days in a baseball season, so a team can avoid using up a year by calling up a player a few weeks into the season. The Houston Astros took this approach with prospect George Springer this season.
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo had a similiar path, as he accrued just fewer than 172 days of service after his first two call-ups in the majors, once for the San Diego Padres in 2011 and once for the Cubs in 2012. The Cubs also avoided Super Two status with him by calling him up in late June 2012. Teams can avoid arbitration for three years instead of two by calling a player up by a deadline that typically falls in late June or early July.
The details aren't as important as knowing this: If the Cubs want to save money down the line and still call them up in September, then they'll need to tack on those days to playing time in the minor leagues next season, unless the Cubs simply plan on starting them out of spring training, and that's not likely.
For example, 22 days of time in the big leagues this year basically means 22 more days in the minors next year to avoid a year toward free agency and/or Super Two status. It might be worth it, as the Cubs could leave a player such as Bryant in the minors for that long anyway. If both Baez and Bryant are actually going to break camp with the Cubs next spring, then getting them a cup of coffee with the team this season makes sense because service time won't matter. Most likely you'll see both next season, but not out of the gate.
However, team sources indicate the recent promotions aren't part of some long-term plan that was locked in months ago. Yes, the Bryant promotion made sense as the Southern League took its All-Star break, but Schwarber and Bryant were on track to spend more time on their respective teams.
The Cubs had obviously changed their minds when they concluded there was little more Schwarber needed to do to get his timing down while playing for the Class A Boise Hawks, so he got promoted after just a few days. And Bryant long ago proved he needed a bigger challenge than Double-A pitching, leading the Southern League in batting average (.355), home runs (22), RBIs (58), on-base percentage (.458) and slugging (.702).
If individual prospects are being dubbed as saviors, then Bryant is the face of the movement right now. His ability, work ethic and attitude are unmatched in the Cubs organization, and he could be the next great player in the major leagues. Of course, Baez was thought of in similar fashion until his struggles in Iowa this season so Bryant has one more thing to prove.
A reliever such as Vizcaino or a starter such as Kyle Hendricks are more likely to see the major leagues sooner rather than later. Impending trades should open a few spots on the staff, and a player such as Vizcaino was only really in the minors to get innings in after missing so much time with arm injuries. His sub-2.00 ERA this season combined with his electric arm screams another promotion before season's end. Hendricks might simply get a chance because he's next up among those getting ready to make their debuts.
Yes, Wednesday was a good day, but minor league promotions should never be the headline-makers they are for the Cubs. The next time the Cubs make that kind of news should finally have a real effect on the long-term plan because we'll see some of these players at Wrigley Field.
Then we'll really start to find out if the front office has chosen the right talent for their infamous rebuilding strategy. Until then, they're just minor league players, as much as they do generate headlines.
While last year’s top pick, Kris Bryant, spent 18 games with short season Class-A Boise, Schwarber is headed to Low-A baseball in Kane County much quicker. The difference is Schwarber was playing college baseball up until a couple of weeks ago and signed quickly with the Cubs after the draft. After seeing him for a few days -- the plan had been to give him a few more games -- the Cubs decided he wasn’t rusty and gave him the promotion. Bryant didn’t sign with the Cubs until mid-July so he had been away from competitive baseball for a while and needed more time. He eventually skipped Kane County and went right to High-A Daytona.
So now the question is: How far can Schwarber go this season? If he had started out at Daytona then finishing at Double-A was at least a possibility, considering he’s on the field playing so quickly after being drafted. But his current best-case scenario probably has him at Kane County for a while, then finishing up the season at Daytona if he proves himself as he did in Boise. Starting next year at Double-A -- like Bryant did this year -- makes a lot of sense.
Schwarber, 22, hit .358 with 14 home runs and 48 RBIs his final year at Indiana before the Cubs selected him Thursday in the amateur draft. He is one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench award given to the top catcher in college, although he might not play that position in the pros.
Saving money on Schwarber will allow the Cubs to pay later-round picks more as they try to entice some to sign instead of go to college. A reported deal with catcher Mark Zagunis, their third-round pick, saved the Cubs $99,900 already.
The savings on early-round picks was intimated by scouting director Jason McLeod last weekend during the draft.
"We expect this to be a very quick process and get him out and playing in the organization and spend some money elsewhere," McLeod said.
Schwarber will start his professional career with the Cubs' short season Class-A team in Boise, Idaho. He will be available to play in Boise's season opener on Friday.
Special to ESPNChicago.com
CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs have put together a nice five-game winning streak -- Saturday's 5-2 defeat of the Miami Marlins the latest in that string -- and earned their third and fourth series victories of the season in the process. They’re getting strong starting pitching; their young, powerful bullpen arms have delivered impressive performances; and the offense has given the fans some excitement with a pair of walk-off wins.
However, the focus this weekend wasn’t on the suddenly strong play of the big league club. A Cubs organization that is still squarely focused on the future wrapped up 40 rounds of the draft Saturday afternoon, the first 10 of which might turn out being one of the stronger in all of baseball.
Scouting director Jason McLeod seemed pleased with how things turned out.
“It’s been a good couple days for us,” McLeod said. “We’re excited about the guys we were able to draft over these three days. We felt [Friday] we were able to get some high-upside, talented, young high school pitchers mixed in with the college group that we did. I said a couple days ago that we were going to make a run on pitching and certainly we’ve done that.”
The Cubs used eight of the first 10 selections on pitchers and at one point drafted nine consecutive arms. Many expected the run on pitching heading into the draft; the surprise was the selection of Kyle Schwarber, a catcher out of Indiana University, with the fourth overall pick.
It was suggested that the Cubs made the pick with the intention of signing Schwarber under his slot value while targeting a high-upside, over-slot high school arm in the second round. While Schwarber will likely come at a discount, the Cubs were adamant that the pick was made based on talent and not financials. However, they were certainly high on polished high schooler Jack Flaherty, but the Cardinals selected the California right-hander with the 34th pick. Unfazed, the Cubs quickly changed directions and took senior Jake Stinnett out of the University of Maryland with their second-round pick.
Normally in the draft, when a college senior is chosen, it’s assumed that the pick was made so the team could save some money and redistribute those funds toward other selections. However, Stinnett is a rare case.
“He was an athletic kid who was a conversion -- he went into Maryland as a third baseman/pitcher,” McLeod said. “So he doesn’t actually have as many innings under his belt as a lot of college pitchers do. This year was actually his first full season as a starting pitcher and he goes out and leads the ACC in strikeouts, big-time ground-ball rate, throws a lot of strikes. He’s already a physical guy that’s athletic and he’s a younger kid, for a fourth-year player in college, he’s actually at junior-age, he’s only 21. We felt all of those things lead to someone who’s still on the rise as a pitcher.”
When picking high school players who fall in the draft due to contract demands, there’s always a concern about whether they’ll end up signing. Not only would failing to sign a player mean a wasted pick, but any player chosen in the first 10 rounds has a specific amount of money tied to his draft position. If such a players goes unsigned, the team loses both the player and its slot money, meaning the club won’t be able to redistribute those funds toward other picks.
“These are kids that were rated very highly and had strong college commitments,” McLeod said. “But, through the due diligence of our scouts -- communication [is important], certainly in this system of the draft, you have a pool of money, you have to work hard to make sure it fits within the parameters. And we did and we feel like we got three talented young players that we think we’ll be able to sign.”
Cease missed most of the season after suffering an elbow injury and opted to have platelet-rich plasma injections rather than surgery. However, McLeod said the team believes he’ll likely have to undergo some surgical procedure, possibly Tommy John, and made the pick with that in mind.
“We also know that coming into the year he was arguably a top-15-type pick in the draft,” McLeod said. “Where we were in that area of the draft, we felt that looking at who we selected, if we use our money wisely it's an opportunity there to hit real big. We know that there's risk, he's a high school right-hander, will probably have to have some sort of procedure on his arm. But to get that kind of talented player in the sixth round, we certainly felt it was worth it.”
McLeod also appeared quite optimistic that the Cubs would be able to sign their 22nd-round pick, Joey Martarano, a third baseman with huge power, who plays football at Boise State.
“We're going to make a good run at him,” McLeod said of Martarano, who is slated to be a redshirt freshman linebacker in the 2014 season. “It's a different situation there in that they don't have baseball at that school, but he is a guy that was well-known on the amateur circuit in high school because he's so strong, physical, right-handed power. That one actually is one that we're going to try. It might be a situation where he plays football still and goes down and plays baseball in the summer.”
The selections of Martarano and Cease, along with the other high school arms, were all made possible by the fact that the Cubs took Schwarber and Stinnett early. However, McLeod reiterated that they didn’t reach for either, particularly Schwarber. McLeod surprised many Thursday when he said the powerful lefty was second on their draft board behind No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken.
“I’ve always said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that certainly holds true in the draft,” McLeod said. “There may have been teams that had Kyle Schwarber 10th or 15th on their list, but, like I said, he was No. 2 on ours. You do your work on the signability, for sure, and what you think a player will sign for, you have those kinds of discussions. But that’s not what’s going to be the determining factor for us on where we’re going to place a guy on the board or if we’ll pick him.”
Despite being pretty athletic for his 240-pound build, it’s likely Schwarber will have to move from behind the plate and into a corner outfield spot, with left field being the probable destination. After selecting Schwarber on Thursday, McLeod admitted that he might move quickly through the system, but cautioned about setting expectations too high.
“I think Kris Bryant has set the bar high and really we need to step back and look at some reality,” McLeod said after Thursday’s first round. “I don’t want people think he’s going to be in double-A, doing what Kris is doing, this time next year. But we do feel, with his profile and the way that he handles himself as a hitter, that he can move pretty quickly.”
Bryant, one of the top prospects in all of baseball, continues to light up the Southern League and went 3-for-3 with a home run, a double and a walk Saturday, bringing his season line up to an eye-popping .353/.460/.701.
Despite their recent winning ways, Jeff Samardzija, who tossed seven strong innings in Saturday’s victory over the Marlins, and the rest of the big league Cubs aren’t bothered that the attention appears to be focused on the kids. In fact, they look forward to the day when guys like Schwarber and Bryant get to Wrigley nearly as much as the fans.
“I think we all know what we have coming in the minor leagues and I think everyone’s excited to show what they have,” Samardzija said. “Then when they start coming, we’re all a part of it. That’s what everyone wants. You don’t want to put all this hard work in and battle to where we’ve been to where we are now with help coming, then not be a part of it. So everybody’s excited and is just ready to keep this going.”
While he took an optimistic tone Saturday, it’d be an upset if Samardzija is around when the kids arrive, as many expect him to be dealt this summer. However, with the likes of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro producing at a high level, there appears to be some legit talent at the big league level for the kids coming through the system to complement.
And though the Cubs still sit nine games below .500 and near the bottom of the National League, a five-game winning streak and a fruitful draft left many pointing toward a future that could be bright sooner rather than later at Wrigley Field.
CHICAGO -- The naysayers will definitely be out when it comes to the Chicago Cubs' early-round draft picks. But their first-round pick, catcher Kyle Schwarber from Indiana, and second-round pick, pitcher Jake Stinnett from Maryland, might be the most easily signable top two picks for any team in baseball.
This means the Cubs can save some money and potentially use it elsewhere. And when director of scouting Jason McLeod declares Schwarber the "best hitter -- hands down -- in this year's draft," those are hard words to ignore.
Maybe the Cubs think they took the left-handed version of Kris Bryant, their up-and-coming slugger who went No. 2 overall last season. As much as pitching wins games, there's still a price for power these days.
"It lines up perfectly because he is hitting from the left side, and we don't have many of those players," McLeod said Thursday. "We feel this is an impact bat that can hit in the middle of the order."
That makes sense, but the question remains whether Schwarber is really as good as McLeod believes. McLeod flatly said his team would have taken Schwarber ahead of pitchers Carlos Rodon and Tyler Kolek. However, Rodon could be fast-tracked to the majors for the White Sox, while it's the Cubs who are desperate for pitching, which makes it hard to believe they would have bypassed Rodon for Schwarber.
Maybe that's the way the Cubs are going about their rebuild. McLeod said that picking as high as they have lately demands taking impact players. That said, he admitted they were "enamored" with high school lefty Brady Aiken, who went No. 1 to the Houston Astros, so pitching was on their minds, but after Aiken it was all about Schwarber.
"Everything came back [to] just what type of person he is," McLeod said. "That's the type of people we're trying to bring into the organization."
The same could be said about other hitters in the draft, such as Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto, on whom the Cubs passed. The bottom line is almost no one had Schwarber rated this high. He isn't the sure thing Bryant looked to be, but the Cubs get the benefit of the doubt because of their seemingly brilliant choice of Bryant over a pitcher in last year's draft.
The problem might be where Schwarber plays. More than one scouting report said first base might be his best option, as it's doubtful he'll remain at catcher. If he does stay, he becomes a valuable commodity; hitting catchers are hard to find. Otherwise, he'll move to left field, where he doesn't project to be one of the better players defensively.
But, as McLeod said, the Cubs drafted him for his bat. If he hits, they'll find a place for him and prove the naysayers wrong.
CHICAGO – Here’s a quick look at the Chicago Cubs' first-round pick, No. 4 overall, in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft.
The pick: Kyle Schwarber, catcher/outfielder, Indiana University, 6-foot, 240 pounds.
His stats: Schwarber hit 18 home runs in 2013 then followed that up with 14 in 2014 while hitting .358. His on-base percentage rose in each of his three years at Indiana, landing at .464 his junior season. He walked 44 times while striking out 30 his final year at Indiana. He registered a .992 fielding percentage and threw out 16 of 43 runners this past season.
His background: Schwarber, a native of Middletown, Ohio, was a second-team all-state linebacker his senior year in high school and led the Greater Miami conference in hitting with a .474 batting average.
ESPN draft guru Keith Law’s take: In a draft light on power-hitting bats -- particularly in terms of college prospects -- Schwarber might have the most raw power of any prospect in the class, showing plus-plus power to right field thanks to tremendous lower-body strength and strong wrists. He transfers his weight well and has the type of raw power that could produce 30-plus homer seasons if he's able to play every day. He shows good feel at the plate, and a willingness to work pitches and get on base via walk, but doesn't have elite bat speed, and there's a lot of swing-and-miss in his bat as well.
“We feel he’s a really good, underrated athlete that could certainly move to an outfield position, in the corner,” Cubs director of scouting Jason McLeod said. “His bat is obviously why we drafted him.”
The decision: The Cubs claim Schwarber was No. 2 on their board after pitcher Brady Aiken, the left-hander who went first overall to Houston. That’s how highly they think of Schwarber’s bat.
“We felt Kyle was the best hitter -- hands down -- in this year’s draft,” McLeod said.
The Cubs are loading up on bats, especially with their high draft picks, as they can be game-changers. And the fact that he's lefty is a huge need, too.
“These last three years we’ve been picking so high,” McLeod said. “When you’re picking up that high in the draft, you have a chance to get a talented, impactful player. That was no different this year.”
Signability: McLeod made it clear that Schwarber shouldn’t be a tough signing and it would leave the Cubs with extra money to spend elsewhere in the draft. He was selected higher than most mock drafts indicated so the Cubs could get him at their price. Those selected right after him could get more.
“We expect this to be a very quick process and get him out and playing in the organization and spend some money elsewhere,” McLeod said.
Schwarber’s reaction: He was at a golf course with friends and family Thursday when he got the news. He said he realized in the past few days that the Cubs had serious interest in him when area scout Stan Zielinski reached out recently. Schwarber met with Cubs baseball operations president Theo Epstein in February during a college trip to Arizona.
“Right now, I’m really embracing the moment,” Schwarber said on a conference call. “The Cubs organization has a very rich history and I got a taste of it when we were there with Team USA this past summer. That was the first time I was at Wrigley. I fell in love with the place right away."
Schwarber said he loves to catch, but he’s open to a position change if the Cubs ask. Epstein told him to enjoy the moment -- and at the proper time they’ll talk about signing a contract.