Cubs prospect Kyle Schwarber blasts grand slam in first at-bat
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Even your dreams shouldn’t be quite this grandiose.
Cubs designated hitter Kyle Schwarber (yes, they have DHs in these National League games) faced his first major-league pitcher, the Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong, and cranked a grand slam over the right-field wall of Scottsdale Stadium.
Yes, it’s spring training. Yes, it’s split-squad time. And, yes, there are DHs so pitchers don’t hurt their witty-bitty wrists and more batters get to play.
But we’ll counter that by noting that this was Schwarber’s birthday.
Happy birthday! Nice way to ring in 22!
Schwarber got the silent treatment in the dugout, of course.
Major-league protocol. After all, these are only the 2010-2012-2014 world champion Giants. And Vogelsong was in the World Series only five months ago.
‘‘They gave me the silent treatment, yeah,’’ the former Indiana University star catcher said. ‘‘Then they came around and gave me a lot of high-fives and stuff. Cool.’’
But then the day’s star backed away from it all.
‘‘It’s over now,’’ he said modestly. ‘‘I had a good at-bat. Overall, it was an OK day. But I’d like to have a few at-bats back.’’
He went 1-for-3 and was upset about his second and third plate appearances, when he grounded out to short and flied out to left. So those could’ve gone better. But right now, Schwarber’s averaging 1.33 runs per at-bat, so that’s, you know, cool.
The thing that’s really exciting about Schwarber, an All-American at IU and the highest draft pick in school history (No. 4 to the Cubs last June) is that he could be the catcher of the future for the club.
His build — 6-foot, 240 — is that of a huge fireplug or very small tractor, and his power-hitting ability derives from that muscular stature. That, and the fact he’s the rarest of humans — a left-handed-hitting, right-handed-throwing prospect.
‘‘Anything that deals with a swing, I do left-handed,’’ he said, though he eats, writes and brushes his teeth right-handed. ‘‘It was natural to me growing up. My dad would never really let me go to switch-hitting.’’
Bless you, pops Greg Schwarber!
As for that power, there was the Hoosiers’ game last season against Louisville — May 13 to be exact — when Schwarber hit a three-run home run in the ninth inning that cleared the center-field wall and may have entered orbit. Off a lefty pitcher, no less.
‘‘After the game, you didn’t need a pitching coach or a ‘Baseball Tonight’ analyst to tell you what happened,’’ WDRB.com sports columnist Rick Bozich wrote. ‘‘You needed an engineer.’’
Estimated at 475 feet or so, that home run didn’t excite Schwarber, either.
“It’s just like any other home run,” he said at the time. “It just happened to go that far.”
Bozich disagreed: ‘‘Schwarber hit the baseball farther than a college player is supposed to be able to hit a ball since the NCAA mandated less lively bats four years ago.’’
Yes, that was college. So we’re not going to lose our minds here.
But the Cubs are built on prospects, promises and hope, so why not think about the upside rather than those, let’s see, 106 years of nonsense?
This first game was a sort of glorified showcase for the hotshot kids, anyway.
Six young Cubbies were named to Baseball America’s top-100 prospects list that came out last month, and five of them played in this game: No. 83 Billy McKinney, No. 12 Jorge Soler, No. 3 Addison Russell and No. 1 Kris Bryant. And, of course, No. 19, Schwarber.
Young center fielders Arismendy Alcantara and Albert Almora also played. So everything but rug snacks and the ‘‘Romper Room’’ bell were here.
But between them, this group had five hits, five runs and six RBI in the 8-6 loss. And Schwarber loaded those numbers himself.
‘‘I was nervous the whole time up there,’’ he said of his grand-slam at-bat. ‘‘Your first game, everybody’s going to be nervous. But this was a little bit different situation.’’
Sure was. Did we mention it was his birthday, too?
His three years in college helped him mature, he said, even if he might not have to make use of his major (recreational sports management) in the near future. Except, maybe, to manage his swing.
He probably has a couple of years, maybe more, in the minor leagues to learn how to be a big-league catcher, the most difficult position other than pitcher, mind-wise. Veteran Cubs catchers, he said, have been ‘‘awesome’’ in helping him learn the mental parts of guiding a game.
He said it was ‘‘cool’’ playing with prospects Bryant, Russell, et al. ‘‘Hopefully, I end up with them someday.’’
And everybody’s at the top.