MESA, Ariz. – Of course, Kyle Schwarber’s run-through-a-brick-wall mentality means he wants to be a catcher. That can always be his passion, but the Cubs have to take a more clinical view and try to protect one of their most valuable assets.
As pitchers and catchers formally reported to the Sloan Park complex on Tuesday, Schwarber was scheduled to meet with Dr. Stephen Gryzlo, the team’s orthopaedist. Even if Schwarber gets the green light in that examination – 10 months after he underwent surgery on his left knee to reconstruct his ACL and repair his LCL – the Cubs will still proceed with caution.
“We’re not going to give him too much,” team president Theo Epstein said. “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 to do anything to jeopardize the length and impact of his career.
“We’re just going to walk before we run. Or walk before we squat, I guess, would be the appropriate thing to say with catching, and just really, really ease into it.”
It sounds like the ideal would be Schwarber leaving Arizona as a viable third catcher for manager Joe Maddon – more in case of emergency than as part of a rotation with Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero.
“If he’s medically cleared today to start introducing some catching, as we expect him to be, we’re going to really go slow with it,” Epstein said. “Like one or two days a week in spring training. That’s it. 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 certain rare occasion where it makes sense for him to start a game behind the plate.”
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The Cubs are committed to Contreras as their everyday catcher of the present and the future, with Maddon essentially saying Montero will be a $14 million backup who might start only once or twice a week. Schwarber – a gym rat who worked on scouting reports, broke down video and sat in the draft room during his rehab last year – will meet with the catching group each morning.
“He will be there thinking through the drills with the catchers,” Epstein said, “communicating with the catchers, being a catcher. But physically only probably doing it one or two days a week.”
Schwarber, who will play with a brace on his left leg all season, showed how much he needed spring training by wrecking his knee in an outfield collision in Game 3 last April and making a shocking return as the World Series designated hitter, hitting .412 with a .971 OPS against the Cleveland Indians.
“We all know what he did in the World Series last year,” Maddon said. “People are going to look at that and base their entire Schwarber world around those last two games. But he’s still coming off a really significant injury and we have to be very careful with that.
“I would like to see him be able to play an entire season. It would be kind of nice to get a full season of Kyle Schwarber in Major League Baseball.”