MIAMI – “The dude can hit.”
Whether or not Kyle Schwarber becomes Wrigleyville’s version of “The Big Lebowski,” Indiana University head coach Tracy Smith promised Cubs fans the No. 4 overall pick won’t miss.
“He’s the perfect fit,” Smith said during a telephone interview. “People are going to love this guy.”
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Of course, what else is the college coach going to say? Schwarber did bat .600 and homer four times during his first five games at short-season Class-A Boise, earning a quick promotion to Class-A Kane County, where he will debut on Thursday night.
But Smith also knows the Cubs after playing in their farm system for three seasons (1988-1990) and following the organization ever since.
“I remember some of the first-round picks that didn’t do squat,” Smith said. “He’s such a low-risk pick. He will be in the big leagues and producing.”
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Smith smiled while watching the draft two weeks ago, because he had seen this before with Schwarber on the recruiting trail. Smith heard enough from “the talking heads” doubting whether Schwarber could play catcher, seeing it as a stretch for a below-slot deal ($3.125 million) with a potential 6-foot, 235-pound outfielder.
Smith remembered once going to see Schwarber play for Middletown High School, where he had been viewed as more of a mid-major player and one of Ohio’s better middle linebackers. Smith’s wife had grown up in the area and knew Schwarber’s family.
Smith bumped into a coach for an elite traveling squad, who asked which player he wanted to see: “The catcher.”
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The response: “What catcher?” The coach told Smith he must be thinking of the “wrong guy,” not the one from Middletown.
Schwarber wound up hitting three bombs that day – to left, center and right field – and Smith made the Indiana offer after the game.
Schwarber didn’t get drafted out of high school, but kept developing into a Team USA player and a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, which is given to the nation’s top Division I catcher.
Schwarber batted .341 with 40 homers and 149 RBI in 180 games for the Hoosiers, putting up a .437 on-base percentage and convincing Theo Epstein’s front office he could be a big left-handed hitter in the middle of a lineup featuring Kris Bryant and Javier Baez.
About an hour away from Wrigley Field, Schwarber will get a taste for the Chicago market and the obsession with Cubs prospects.
“He’s done everything he can do at the amateur level and he’s done it with eyes on him,” Smith said. “He’ll handle it as well as anyone.”