After weeks of discussing it, the Cubs made the decision after Monday’s rainout to call up touted hitting prospect Kyle Schwarber to make his major league debut this week against American League opponents.
The left-handed slugger travels from Jacksonville, Fla., where his Class AA Tennessee Smokies played Monday night, to join the team Tuesday for a six-day stretch, during which the Cubs play five games in American League parks, with the designated hitter.
Schwarber, the No. 4 overall pick in last year’s draft, already was ticketed for a promotion to Class AAA Iowa this week. And that’s where he’ll report after Sunday’s game in Minnesota, regardless of big-league performance this week, team president Theo Epstein said through a statement Monday night.
His promotion will put the Cubs’ top four hitting prospects all on the big-league roster at the same time, joining Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler (on the 15-day DL). Schwarber is Baseball America’s No. 19-ranked prospect overall, No. 4 in the Cubs’ system.
“Kyle has had a tremendous developmental year so far behind the plate, with the bat, and as a leader,” Epstein said.
He’ll be used as a designated hitter, bat off the bench and as a third catcher, Epstein said.
Schwarber, who went 2-for-5 Monday night, is hitting .320 at Tennessee with 13 home runs and a 1.017 OPS. He’s 6-for-18 in his last five games with a home run and a three-walk game.
The roster opportunity opened for Schwarber when Monday’s game against the Cleveland Indians was postponed by severe weather, giving a much-needed rest to a heavily worked bullpen – allowing the Cubs to reduce a bloated, nine-man bullpen back to the eight-man strength they’ve used most of the season.
The Cubs added a ninth reliever before Sunday’s game.
Neither Matt Szczur nor Junior Lake – the last two position players sent back to the minors – was eligible for promotion Tuesday, anyway. Neither had spent the requisite 10 days in the minors to allow a recall for reasons not involving a DL move.
The move requires adding Schwarber to the 40-man roster, a possible sign the Cubs consider him a candidate to be in play for a major-league job next year.
For weeks the potential Schwarber move had been a topic of speculation and public conversation with manager Joe Maddon — who said repeatedly he considered Schwarber an option for an additional bat during a 13-game stretch, starting last Tuesday, that included seven DH games.
Maddon said he discussed options with Epstein just ahead of the first game in that stretch but that Schwarber was not considered then. “It would require a lot of manipulation in order to have that done right now,” Maddon said then.
Sources say top Cubs officials talked about adding Schwarber to the 40-man roster at that time but rejected the idea in part because he’s still far enough away defensively as a catcher that his only feasible big-league position for even an inning would be DH.
But Cubs catching coordinator Tim Cossins said on Monday that Schwarber has made impressive progress even since the off-season and spring training with his catching and doesn’t necessarily believe his defensive skills are further from being ready for the majors than his hitting.
Could the former Indiana University star be competitive for a big-league job as early as next spring? “I wouldn’t rule anything out with anybody like him,” Cossins said, “because of his gifts and his makeup.”