Spring training is officially underway at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona and it’s time for the Cubs to get back into the baseball groove. As of now, it’s not hard to imagine the starting lineup that will be standing on the painted “2016 World Series Champions” grass come opening day at Wrigley Field. The team is made up of majority returning players that have proven they can put together at least a few wins.
However, there is one man that, surprisingly, still has something to prove and that’s big-hitter Kyle Schwarber.
Schwarber is coming off a season where he appeared in just two regular season games before suffering an ACL tear that cost him the entire regular season and much of the postseason. To many people’s surprise Schwarber returned for the World Series in October but on a limited basis.
This was better than nothing for the Cubs. After-all, using Schwarber for the DH spot in Cleveland was an easy choice. In addition, he had one pinch hitting appearance. He walked away from the World Series with a .412 batting average, proving the man can still hit.
The question of Schwarber effectiveness has never come from what he can do at the plate though. The encased towering home run ball from the 2015 Cubs-Cardinals NLDS that sits atop the right field video board is a reminder of that. Schwarber has a different issue, and it’s the fact that he doesn’t have a position to call his own.
Schwarber currently sits as the third string catcher and backup left fielder on the Cubs depth chart. If Joe Maddon wants the plate production of Schwarber, he’ll need to work on finding him a comfortable playing position.
Schwarber has now played both catcher and outfielder for the Cubs at one time or another and both positions currently have better options defensively.
Young catcher Willson Contreras has come to be an effective presence behind the plate. When Schwarber was catching in 2015, he had a .977 fielding percentage and only caught runners stealing three times. Contreras, on the other hand, put up a .986 fielding percentage and caught runners stealing 13 times in 2016. Contreras proved he is the better option and should expect to get a bulk of the starts this season.
As for the left field, Schwarber’s most recent position playing spot, the Cubs can expect handy-man Ben Zobrist to take over. Javier Baez has become the future second basemen for the Cubs and Zobrist’s versatility lands him as still the most viable option in left field. While this is the position Schwarber would most likely see the most playing time, Zobrist is in control and his veteran play will land him the gig in more starting lineups than not.
Schwarber is a good problem to have. The Cubs just have too many strong players across the board. However, if Schwarber continues his lack of position strength he could end up on the trading block. Last season his name was thrown around as a potential trade candidate and fans shouldn’t be surprised if it happens again this season.
Once fully healthy, Kyle Schwarber needs to prove that his position play is of value or else his time wearing Cubbie blue could be running out.
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