He has yet to play a full season, but the energy and excitement he brings to the games are refreshing. But with his early success, are we expecting too much from Schwarber?
The Chicago Cubs Kyle Schwarber is unique. He is 23, played in 71 regular season games, and is coming off a knee injury. However, he also hit 16 home runs and drove in 43 runs in his first 69 games. That is more production that the Chicago Cubs received from Jason Heyward in 2016. Add to this his career postseason stats of a .364/.451/.727 split with five homers and 10 RBI, and you see why the legend of Schwarber reaches mythical status.
But –something no one has truly asked yet– are we expecting too much from him in 2017? Sure, I wrote an article predicting big things for the Cubs offense, including Schwarber hitting 30+ home runs. There is no doubt the offensive production is there. Evidence supports that fact. What we do not know is if he can handle the defensive responsibilities.
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Where does he play?
Okay. We may already have the answer to this question, but Schwarber does not. In an article composed by ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, Schwarber states his desire to stay in the catching mix for the Cubs. In the article, Schwarber expressed that he wants to catch bullpen sessions at Spring Training and, while he may not throw out runners, he can contribute by calling good games and working pitchers well.
All information points to Kyle playing in left field regularly. If so, he will need to learn quickly. For those that remember the NLCS versus the New York Mets in 2015, Schwarber’s lack of great speed preventing him from cutting hits off. This lead to more extra base hits for the NL Champions. The learning curve is high due to the outfield dimensions and hitters’ ability to drive the ball. And, as shown on the horrific play that ended his 2016 campaign, Schwarber will need to learn how to communicate with Jon Jay or Albert Almora. Having Heyward in left field may lead to the centerfielder cheating toward Schwarber, diminishing his territory.
Health of a Super Hero
Kyle has been associated with Marvel Comics hero “The Hulk” due to his strength and constant smashing of the ball. The question remains on how his body, not just his knee, will respond to a full season. He was limited to hitting in the post-season, which came in handy. A full season is a different story. The ups and downs, the streaks and slumps, the great plays and errors – all of these things take a toll physically and mentally. And, until he completes a season, the answer will not be clear.
If he wants to contribute to the highest level in 2017, the outfield will need to be his focus. The constant squatting and standing at catcher could cause more knee issues, making Schwarber potentially unavailable for long stretches. Furthermore, positioning him at the top of the order may put extra pressure on him mentally to get on base. While not a free swinger, he showed his immaturity at the plate by striking out 77 times in 2015. In the 2016 playoffs, he proved his ability to walk.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe in Schwarber’s abilities. But, we should all pause for a moment and realize that this 23-year old has yet to play a full season. Between learning new positions offensively and defensively, the likelihood of struggles is high; however, if he produces as we have witnessed, it will be a fun season.