Not just a pretty bat? Cubs’ Schwarber says he can ‘D’-liver more
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MESA, Ariz. — Kyle Schwarber already is a two-time postseason hitting hero for the Cubs.
The tales and expectations of his magical bat reached near mythical proportions last fall as he returned early from a knee injury to hit in the World Series.
And as he comes off that seasonlong injury, many talk about him as a key offensive addition, if not one of the more important pieces of a young core.
But where will he play?
The slugger, who said Tuesday he still has a “passion” for catching, looks more like the designated hitter he became in the World Series. He’s expected to open the season as a left fielder by default.
But Schwarber bristles at the notion he’s just a pretty bat.
“I’m sure that’s how people view me, but I want to be an all-around player,” said the guy who last spring looked in danger of running himself into the ground with all the “passion” and extra time he put into catching drills and outfield work, to the point team officials had to dial him back.
“I want to be able to play defense to the best of my abilities, and I feel really confident going into this year.”
Schwarber’s uncommon confidence and drive — a factor in the Cubs spending the fourth overall pick on him in the 2014 draft — are two of the few reasons the club is even entertaining the possibility of allowing the defensively raw Schwarber to catch.
He was examined by the team orthopedist Tuesday, the day pitchers and catchers reported to camp, to get the anticipated medical clearance to catch. But Cubs president Theo Epstein and manager Joe Maddon said even if he’s cleared, it will be a slow reintroduction to the position.
“Like one or two days a week in spring training. That’s it,” Epstein said. “His primary focus is going to be as a left fielder. The goal, if he is cleared, would be to have him ready potentially at the end of spring training to fill that role of third catcher. So if there’s something that happens in-game, Joe can move him back there, or if there’s a rare occasion where it makes sense for him to start a game behind the plate.
“His future is too valuable. We want him to have the longest possible career. He makes such a great impact on us with his bat, and with the person that he is, that we don’t want him to do anything to jeopardize the length and impact of his career.”
Said Maddon, who lauded Schwarber’s outfield skills as much better than common perception: “He’s a unique talent. You saw it last year.”
Enough that he’s in the mix to bat leadoff after Dexter Fowler’s departure.
As part of a young, All-Star-caliber core of hitters, Schwarber is one of the reasons pundits and insiders look at the Cubs as a potential dynasty over the next five or six years.
Not that the players spend much time on the subject.
“I wouldn’t say we talk about it,” Schwarber said. “We really just want to focus on what we have ahead of us this year. But, obviously, we know the talent that we have, and we know how good we can be for some years down the road. But no one can predict the future. Take it one year, one day, one pitch at a time.”
The Cubs are trying to become the first team to repeat since the Yankees won three consecutive titles from 1998 to 2000. Since the late 1970s, only one other team has repeated: the 1992-93 Blue Jays.
“We all have our little self-motivation. Obviously, we want to get back to where we were last year,” Schwarber said. “Bringing [a championship] back to the city of Chicago was great. Now we’ve got to do it again. And it starts here, Day 1 of spring training.”
Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.