Kyle Schwarber: The Next Big Thing at Wrigley?

The Cubs have made plenty of headlines with their young stars rising through the ranks. Kyle Schwarber may be the next in line; here’s what to know. 

The Chicago Cubs have been playing good baseball so far this season, which is a refreshing change from the ugly starts that have plagued them for as long as most fans can remember. In reality, this year is the first time the Cubs finished the month of April with a winning record since 2008, which is also the last year they made the playoffs.

There are a lot of reasons they’ve played so well, but among the biggest reasons are the emergence of prospects such as Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, and Addison Russell. The best farm system in baseball, and possibly one of the most heavily talented in recent memory, has graduated it’s best hitters with only Javier Baez still waiting down at Triple-A.

03 May 2015: Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant watching the flight of his batted ball while playing in a baseball game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, Chicago, Il

Bryant et. al. have been impressive to begin their Major League careers.

It begs the question: who is the next big Cubs prospect that is waiting for his first taste of big league action? The answer: 2014 first-round draft pick Kyle Schwarber, who is currently at Double-A and hitting .310/.434/.612 on the season with nine home runs. His overall slash in the minors is even more impressive, hitting .333/.430/.627 with 27 home runs in 456 career plate appearances.

Schwarber is just 22 years old and might be on his way to Triple-A sometime soon, as he’s showing he can handle pitching at the lower levels. He bats left-handed and has a sweet lefty swing, even if his bat speed isn’t off the charts. Watch the swing that he puts on one of his mammoth home runs this year with Tennessee:

Schwarber is a catcher by trade, although the Cubs have toyed with him in left field as well. When he was drafted, it was said that he’s too big and may not have a position that he can play defensively. Schwarber takes pride in his defense, and has said that he really wants to stick at catcher:

‘‘When people say I can’t do something, I take that to heart, and I’m going to go out there and prove people wrong,’’ he said. ‘‘I think I can do it. I know I’m a good enough athlete to do it. And being around guys like [veterans Miguel Montero and David Ross], it can definitely be beneficial.’’

Schwarber seems to have endeared himself to Jason McLeod, the Cubs head of scouting and player development, for his attitude on the topic of being able to handle the catching duties:

‘‘The question was something like did he think he could do it,’’ McLeod recounted during Cubs Convention. ‘‘He just stone-faced looks at both of us, and — I won’t use his exact words — but basically said, ‘You know that really ticks me off when people say that I can’t [expletive] catch.”

26 AUG 2014:     Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs in action during the Florida State League game between the Daytona Cubs and the Dunedin Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Florida.

After playing 20 games at catcher and 36 in left field at three different levels in the minors in 2014, the Cubs have committed to allowing Schwarber to figure things out at catcher this year. So far, he’s caught 23 games while playing zero in the outfield and DH’ing nine times. He’s allowed 38 stolen bases and has only caught seven attempted thieves, good for just a 16 percent rate. It’s a work in progress.

At the plate, however, he projects out as a potentially elite batter. Check out the grades that Fangraphs has for the different tools in Schwarber’s game.

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For those that aren’t familiar with the scouting scale, it goes from 20-80 with 20 being as absolutely low as you can go and 80 being elite. The first number represents where he is today, and the second number is his potential. They have him at 65 for his potential power, which means he could be a 30 home run kind of guy.

March 2, 2015: Catcher Kyle Schwarber (74) poses for a portrait during the Chicago Cubs photo day in Mesa, AZ.

As for the rest of his tools, it basically labels him as a good hitter with surprisingly good speed for a guy his size, with room for growth on defense. His 60 rating for future value places him just slightly below All-Star level, but also better than your average, everyday guy in the lineup. To summarize, Schwarber is an impressive hitting prospect with quite a bit of potential.

But don’t take my word for it; I really don’t have a scouts eye. My skill is in taking what others see and interpreting it. If you want to read what smart people think, give a look at what Tommy Cook of Cubs Insider wrote about Schwarber shortly after he was drafted.

So when will this guy be swinging his way into Wrigley Field, you might wonder? The jury is out on that for now, but there has been plenty of speculation to go around. Keith Law, during a recent chat, offered up his take when asked if he thought Schwarber would be a disaster in left field and if there’s any chance he’s called up to the Cubs this season:

“Not a disaster at all, and I think there’s a good chance.”

Short and too the point, which is a staple of Klaw Chat. So long as the Cubs stay in the playoff race and Schwarber continues to punish minor league pitching, I don’t think there’s any question whether he’ll make his way to Chicago sometime this season. At this point, it’s more of a wonder whether he’ll be playing left field on a regular basis or simply spot starting and pinch-hitting in September.

One way or another, the Cubs next big hitting prospect is headed for Chicago soon.

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