Things could certainly be going worse for the Chicago Cubs right now. Even injuries to a couple key bullpen arms weren’t enough to completely derail things, though there was a palpable sense of “here we go again” from the fanbase. But a 12-8 start by a team that’s pretty darn fun to watch will do that for you.
Much of the malaise of the past has been mitigated by the regular injections of youth the team has gotten from its meticulously cared-for farm system. And while the jury is still out on guys like Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and even Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant, there’s no doubt that they’ve added a new dimension of excitement at Wrigley.
Bryant’s promotion was easily the most discussed of the group, so much so that the shadow it cast over the organization — and really baseball in general — was still lingering when Russell was called up only days later. I had fully expected to have enough time for folks to get whipped into a frenzy over another promotion date before the Cubs made the call the week after Bryant came up.
Given the intense focus on the farm system and these big-name prospects over the last few years, it almost feels weird to have most of the guys we fawned over from afar playing at Wrigley in hi-def glory each evening (well, unless you’re in a market that doesn’t have coverage for the dozens of WGN and ABC-7 games).
Sure, we got to see Junior Lake back up on Tuesday night and he actually looked good in his early at-bats before going all Junior Lake on an ugly strikeout in the 8th. And we’ll see Matt “Hail!” Szczur again at some point, not to mention a carousel of relievers shuttling back and forth from Des Moines as additional innings are required.
But that’s all a part of the annual grind of attrition that is the MLB season. What about the next debut, the date to which we can look forward with giddy anticipation? I have to think it’s Kyle Schwarber, a young man who has done nothing short of destroy every league in which he’s played thus far.
Through 13 games with AA Tennessee this season, Schwarber is hitting .377/.470/.717 (that’s a 1.187 OPS) with 4 home runs and 13 RBI go with 11 walks and only 14 strikeouts. I know, it’s just barely north of pedestrian, but hey, you take what you can get from these young kids. In all seriousness though, these are monster numbers.
Positionally speaking, Schwarber has remained pretty static with the Smokies; he’s caught 10 games and DH’ed in 4. But there’s a high likelihood that he’ll be getting some reps in left field before long as well, something he did in 36 of his 56 games last year at various stops across lower levels of the minors.
Schwarber has made no secret about wanting be be a full-time catcher, and that’s where the Cubs would prefer him to be able to stick as well. But with a major league roster that already boasts 3 backstops, it’s unlikely that he’ll be getting the call to come to Chicago to wear shinguards and a chest protector.
If the Cubs continue to play like they have, they should be in the thick of the playoff race as the season winds down. And if Schwarber hasn’t been flipped for Cole Hamels by then, there’s a good possibility that they’ll want his bat on the bench for a run, which means he’ll need to get more used to playing the outfield.
So does that mean the organization is willing to scrap the work Schwarber has put in to be a catcher? Hardly. I still maintain what I’ve been saying from the time they drafted him, which is that he’s got an opportunity to be Evan Gattis 2.0, which is to say a multi-positional masher but with more skill behind the plate and a better approach at it.
When it’s all said and done, you can count on the Cubs to make a choice that is best for the organization in both the long and short runs, and that may mean calling Schwarber up for a playoff push and then allowing him to begin next season in the minors again in order to catch every day.
Miguel Montero is signed through 2017 with a $14 million price tag in each of the final two seasons of the deal, so he’s not likely to be going anywhere anytime soon. Welington Castillo and David Ross, however, become a bit more expendable. Miggy’s steadying influence could help Schwarber to develop behind the plate while giving the Cubs the ability to see where the kid fits best over time.
I don’t think it’s beyond reason to expect Schwarber to be called up to Chicago in advance of the September roster expansions, though a lot of that will depend on where the Cubs sit in the standings. But a lineup of Soler-Rizzo-Bryant-Schwarber (R-L-R-L) anchoring a stretch run would be the stuff of nightmares for opposing pitchers, not to mention managers.
Remember what I said earlier about seeing the Cubs in HD every night? Well, the same can’t necessarily be said for the coverage on MiLB.tv, but the clips below should give you an idea of Schwarber’s prodigious power.
I just hope the folks from Daktronics have plenty of extra video panels for the video board going up in the right field bleachers, because this kids going to dropping Schwarbombs on it before too long.