Kyle Schwarber Would Make the Cubs a Better Team, but Time in Iowa Will Make Kyle Schwarber a Better Player

In their last 41 games, the Cubs have scored 2 or fewer runs 20 times, with 5 of those results coming in the form of shutouts. Over the last 30 days, they are 24th in MLB with 92 runs scored; in the last two weeks, they are 27th with 38. Were you as surprised as I was to find that they’re not actually ranked worse?

But this isn’t supposed to be a team that’s happy to merely be not the worst. And if they expect to continue to fight for a playoff spot in a division that currently has 3 postseason contenders, they can’t continue to hang a crooked number every third day and be happy about it.

Yet as the Cubs were busy struggling to scratch out three runs against the White Sox — one of which came from the mighty bat of ace pitcher Jake Arrieta — one of their farmhands was doing something special about 300 miles to the southeast.

You might recognize the young man above from a 6-game layover with the Cubs — during which he hit .364/.391/.591 with a triple, a home run, and 6 RBI — while traveling from Tennessee to Iowa. And he’s nothing short of setting the Pacific Coast League on fire since arriving in Des Moines. Well, if you consider .333/.403/.633 with 3 homers, 7 doubles, and 10 RBI incendiary.

Those numbers at AAA are pretty much right in line with Schwarber’s aggregate totals across all levels of minor-league ball, too. In 147 games, he’s batting .333/.429/.613 with 34 home runs and 102 RBI. And those are brought down by a 44-game stint in Daytona in which he struggled to a .302/.393/.560 slash with an OPS of only .952.

While you should know that my proverbial tongue was planted firmly in my cheek as I typed that last sentence, you should also know that that was the only time across all lower levels of the Cubs organization that Schwarber’s OPS dipped below 1.000. Not only is he incredibly talented, but he’s shown virtually no weaknesses or degradation when moving up the ladder.

The accolades continued on Sunday afternoon, when, the Cubs’ top draft choice in 2014 took home the Futures Game MVP award by driving in 2 runs with a triple in the 3rd inning and even throwing out Ketel Marte trying to steal 2nd base. Matt Snyder of CBS Sports had a nice piece on Schwarber’s performance in the game, which took place less than an hour from where he grew up.

Oh, and that triple? It came with two strikes. The kid’s got plate approach for days.

So wait, why are we talking about him making a mockery of the minors while his parent club continues to force its pitchers to throw shutouts lest they become hard-luck losers? I think the answer is quite simple: the Cubs are still building toward the future and they believe Schwarber presents an even greater value if he’s able to develop as a full-time catcher.

It wasn’t long ago that I wrote about David Ross being a much better backup catcher than a lot of people would like to admit, and that’s because what he does with the glove far outweighs what he doesn’t do with the bat. Kyle Schwarber is basically the bizarro Ross though, a guy whose glove just isn’t MLB-caliber…yet.

And I say yet because I believe Schwarber has every intention of sticking behind the plate and I believe he’s got the drive to make it happen. As for the ability, well, I’m not qualified to comment on that. But I do know that he’s not ready to spend 9 innings five or six days a week catching the likes of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, et al.

Not only do those guys require a fair bit of framing to massage a strike zone that, in addition to being an amorphous moving target, can be a bit fickle at times, but their stuff can really be nasty at times. Have you seen the nastiness Arrieta unloads? Not exactly custom-built for a young man who’s allowed three passed balls with Iowa alone.

But I’ll give the Cubs and Schwarber credit for sticking with the catching thing. They could have moved him to left, or at least had him getting some innings out there, earlier in the season in order to have him in the Bigs sooner. I still believe that’s the play prior to a September call-up that’s as much a sure thing as Jon Lester and Starlin Castro eventually being compared to Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.

If the Cubs are indeed still in the hunt by that point, it’ll probably mean that Schwarber’s bat is being added more as a luxury than a necessity, which would be a very good situation indeed. I’d prefer to see him come up as a 4th outfielder/bench bat/last-resort catcher and then maybe start next season back in AAA.

The Cubs will keep this kid behind the plate until he proves unequivocally that he can’t handle it back there. Or until someone else comes along who is a much better fit as a long-term backstop. But with Miguel Montero’s health a constant question mark and David Ross’s age limiting his time, we may not have to wait much longer for the team to make that call.

I don’t mean this season, mind you, but it’s pretty obvious that the current duo is lacking a great deal in the way of dynamism. Not surprisingly, that’s making a lot of people antsy. For me, waiting Schwarber’s return at this point feels like the scene from Braveheart in which they’ve sharpened all those trees and are waiting for the last moment to spring their trap on the English cavalry.

It’s even more fitting because Kyle Schwarber is seven feet tall and if he were here, he’d consume the Cardinals with fireballs from his eyes and lightning bolts from his arse. But really, it’s Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer combining to play the role of William Wallace, determining when and where to deploy their not-so-secret weapon.

But fans don’t want to wait, don’t want to feel victorious when they see their team eke out two runs in the first inning of a ballgame. So I can’t blame anyone for questioning the Cubs’ decision to hold, even though I do believe both the team and Schwarber will be better for it.

It doesn’t seem fair, but you should know by now that nothing about being a Cubs fan ever has been. So for the meantime, just find a way to watch a team in need of offense try to find a spark while a young man in Des Moines shows up to the ballpark every day with a flamethrower.


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