Kyle Schwarber‘s torn ACL and LCL leaves the Chicago Cubs with two catchers in their 30’s. Could the team’s catching depth become an issue in 2016?
Schwarber was anointed starting pitcher Jason Hammel‘s personal catcher, playing behind the dish whenever Hammel started. However, Schwarber’s injury will cause him to miss the entire 2016 season, which means he will not be catching a game or even playing anytime soon.
Even though he wasn’t going to be the Cubs’ starting catcher, Schwarber’s absence in 2016 will be felt in more ways than one. While it is clear that losing his power bat is devastating, losing his ability to catch might be a bigger issue than many understand it to be.
When Schwarber was called up to the big leagues in 2015, he had just over one year of service time in the Cubs’ farm system. Catchers generally stay in the minor leagues for several years more than other position players, as learning how to play the position and how to call a big league game takes more time than others.
While it is true that he was brought up solely for his bat, Schwarber still was relatively inexperienced as a professional catcher. For reference’s sake, Cubs’ minor league catcher Willson Contreras will be 24 in May, older than Javier Báez, Addison Russell, and Schwarber as well.
According to MLB.com, Contreras is ranked the Cubs’ second best prospect, regardless of his age. Contreras made his debut with A-Boise in 2011, when he was just 19 years old. Essentially, he is in his sixth year catching in the minor leagues, while Schwarber barely had one year doing so himself.
Schwarber’s development as a catcher took a huge step back because of his injury. 2016 was going to be a pivotal year for the young slugger to develop more behind the plate, learning first-hand from veteran David Ross, who is playing in his final MLB season this year.
At the very least, the Cubs were hoping Schwarber could develop enough as a catcher this year so he could increase his workload behind the plate next season. With Ross retiring, the team needs someone to catch a large number of games in 2017, opposed to starting Miguel Montero every day.
Playing catcher in the MLB is a very demanding job. Not only are catchers considered on-field managers, but they are forced to squat all game, wearing heavy gear during the warm summer months. No catcher should or wants to start every game.
With that being said, the Cubs current catching situation might be a dark horse candidate for the biggest cause of concern with this team right now.
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As things currently stand, the Cubs’ only catchers on the big league roster are Montero (who will be 33 in July) and Ross, who turned 39 years old in March. If one or both players could grow increasingly tired over the course of this season. Could the Cubs be forced to bring in another catcher to give Montero and Ross more rest before a potential playoff run?
Thus far, the two veteran catchers have shown no signs of slowing down, although the season is just 15 games old. Montero is hitting .256 in 11 games and Ross is hitting .214 in just five games.
Both players bring extreme value as skilled defensive catchers, doing the little things that do not show up on the stat sheet. If they can continue to produce as is without growing fatigued, the Cubs will be fine.
If fatigue hits Montero and Ross, though, looking for the Cubs’ front office to make a move. Bringing Contreras up this season is still a possibility, or the team could bring someone from outside to catch down the stretch.
Regardless of what happens, the damage literally has already been done in Schwarber’s case. Tearing two ligaments in his knee will require a grueling rehab that could take anywhere between six and twelve months. One has to wonder if this injury could result in the end of playing catcher for Kyle Schwarber.