Chicago Cubs: Kyle Schwarber isn’t the heir apparent behind the plate
The Cubs catching situation could get cloudier and more crowded
The Chicago Cubs are becoming well-known for their farm system and a plethora of talented young players. Upon the arrival of Addison Russell, talk began that Starlin Castro could be in trouble of holding on to his position at shortstop because of the defensive upgrade–and Russell could hit. That culminated in the benching of Castro this summer and Russell claiming the position that many believed would be his eventually.
Castro rebounded for a strong second half, but the Cubs lack of a capable second baseman afforded him the opportunity to get back in Joe Maddon‘s good graces. He indeed did so, and may have at the least earned himself the job next season either for the long haul, or a showcase of his ability for trade bait. Are the Cubs about to have another situation like this? It could be headed that way.
Kyle Schwarber exploded onto the scene in Chicago in what was expected to be nothing more than a showcase as a DH during an interleague series. Schwarber was indeed showcased, and after Miguel Montero went down with a thumb injury, the Cubs called the young backstop up again and he never left.
While initially getting some reps behind the plate, he eventually moved to the outfield as it was clear he wasn’t refined enough to handle the Cubs ‘ pitching staff on a daily basis. After showing enough to the Cubs to convince them to keep working him behind the plate in the minors, the plan was changed to get Schwarber’s bat in the lineup. That bat was good for 16 home runs and 43 RBIs in just 69 games. His initial hot streak cooled as he batted just .246, but the legend of “Babe” Schwarber was born.
With the offseason underway, the Cubs now turn their attention to what the roster will look like in a few months. The simplest of decisions may be what free agents the Cubs will look to bring back, and who will be sent on their way. With 10 free agents, there’s likely to be a few open spots left on the 40-man roster. That works in the Cubs favor for the Rule 5 draft, as they will need to add anyone they want to protect to said roster. One that is assured to be added is the young, Wilson Contreras.
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At just 23, Contreras has impressed the Cubs thus far as he comes off the 2015 season being named the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year. His season at Double-A Tennessee ended in his winning the Southern League batting title with a .333 average while slapping 34 doubles and 75 RBIs. While Contreras doesn’t possess the power of Schwarber, his defensive skills behind the plate give him the immediate advantage. But this isn’t likely to leave Schwarber “left out” like Castro was for a brief time.
The forecasts on Schwarber is that he has the potential to be a .285 hitter with 25-30 home runs. Even if Contreras doesn’t join the team until late 2016 or 2017, Schwarber’s bat will still need a place in the lineup. The Cubs first want Contreras to show he can match his Double-A numbers at Triple-A Iowas, where he’s likely to open the 2016 season.
The Cubs will enter 2016 with three catchers again, although Schwarber can play the outfield (his poor NLCS aside). With David Ross returning, he and Miguel Montero may spend time working with Schwarber to help decipher if he has the ability to handle things behind the plate. Wherever he lands, his defense is likely to be sub par at best. Probably better to have him in the outfield as opposed to being behind the plate.
One thing is for sure, the Contreras conversations have already begun.