The Chicago Cubs have World Series expectations in 2016, and second-year player Kyle Schwarber is expected to play a large role.
The only question: What position will Schwarber play?
Despite the Cubs still having Miguel Montego and David Ross on the major-league roster, not to mention Willson Contreras emerging as a top catching prospect, they still want to develop Schwarber as a catcher.
"As far as I’m concerned, he’s a catcher," catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello told CSN Chicago. "I’m not letting that go until Joe (Maddon) or Theo (Epstein) says he’s not a catcher. That’s where I see Kyle Schwarber being the most impactful on this team – behind the plate at some point. I think he’s capable of it. I think he wants to do it. And his baseball IQ is off the charts."
With Schwarber’s batting talents — he hit 16 home runs in 69 games last season, along with five postseason homers — the Cubs aren’t willing to let him develop his defensive skills at Triple-A.
"It’s no secret, the kid can hit," bench coach Dave Martinez said. "We love putting him in the lineup, there’s no question about that. What you guys don’t know is this kid is unbelievably athletic."
Schwarber played 21 games at catcher and 43 games in the outfield in 2015, but didn’t excel at either fielding position. To Schwarber, he believes he can eventually develop to play both at a high level.
"[Schwarber] wants to steal bases. He comes up to me all the time and says: ‘Hey, let me steal, let me steal, let me steal.’ Relax, baby steps," Martinez said. "But this guy is a team player. He’ll do anything we ask him to do. Of course, he wants to do both. He thinks he can catch and play the outfield."
Even while coaches are not working with Schwarber, he is taking the time to learn from his veteran teammates, including newly signed Jason Heyward, who has three Gold Gloves under his belt.
"I watched Schwarber hang with Jason Heyward and pick his brain about playing the outfield," Martinez said. "[Schwarber] knows he’s got a lot of work to do. He’s willing to put in the time, both in catching and the outfield."
While catching coach Borzello, who worked with Jorge Posada as he developed All-Star catching skills with the New York Yankees, sees Schwarber as a potential catcher, the Cubs are more focused on maintaining his offensive talents. The wear and tear of playing catcher every day could hamper his long-term success at the plate.
"Yeah, I think he can catch," Borzello said. "He just needs the reps. And it’s up to Theo and (general manager) Jed (Hoyer) to decide what they want to do as far as the wear and tear from that position, and (how) they think that will effect the long-term offense. … Can he do it? Yeah, he can certainly do it cerebrally. And physically, we would have to find out."
With all the discussion about what position Schwarber will play, his preference is to do whatever he can to help the team.
"I love the work," Schwarber said. "Whatever the team wants me to do — that’s going to be what it comes down to. I feel like (I) have to get better at those positions to continue on and help this team win. So whatever it is – whatever they want me to do — I’m all-in and all for it."