The Cubs played “Moneyball” with Kyle Schwarber.
The Cubs made a below-slot deal with the No. 4 overall pick, sources confirmed Wednesday, giving the Indiana catcher a $3.125 million signing bonus. That savings of almost $1.5 million can be spread throughout the rest of this draft class.
After reaching for Schwarber last week, the Cubs grabbed pitchers with eight of their next nine picks, and 21 in total. That became part of a volume/value strategy with the three big-name pitchers – Brady Aiken, Tyler Kolek and Carlos Rodon – going 1-2-3 to the Astros, Marlins and White Sox.
Jason McLeod, the vice president of scouting and player development, called Schwarber “the best hitter, hands down, in this year’s draft.” After hours and hours of internal debate, McLeod said the Cubs had Schwarber at No. 2 on their board behind Aiken.
McLeod also predicted Schwarber would be an easy sign. Privately, the Cubs weren’t sure anyone would be worth the $4.6 million slot value at No. 4, given all the risks associated with pitching that high in the draft, and the lack of elite arms and everyday college players in this class.
The Cubs have a signing-bonus pool worth almost $8.4 million, according to the Baseball America database, and were looking to cut a deal.
The Twins signed Nick Gordon, a high school shortstop from Florida, for almost $3.9 million, the full slot bonus at No. 5. The Phillies gave LSU pitcher Aaron Nola about $3.3 million, the full slot bonus at No. 7.
Schwarber hit .341 with 40 homers and 149 RBI in 180 games for the Hoosiers, putting up a .437 on-base percentage and 116 walks against 91 strikeouts. He played for Team USA and was an all-state middle linebacker at Middletown High School in Ohio, qualities that should transfer to catching. But with a 6-foot, 235-pound frame, his future could be in left field.
“I really have a passion for catching,” Schwarber said. “But whatever the Cubs are wanting me to do is what I’ll do. If they want to give me a chance to stick behind the plate, that opportunity will be great. If they want me to make a position change, that will be great, too.”
The Cubs didn’t draft Schwarber so he could win Gold Gloves. He’s supposed to have an advanced feel for hitting, leadership skills and the personality to handle the big-market pressures.
Schwarber has reported to Class-A Boise, which begins its season on Friday, the start of what should be a relatively fast rise through the system. That could give some left-handed balance to a powerful lineup featuring Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, if all the rebuilding plans come together at Wrigley Field.
McLeod also wanted to give a reality check, stressing that people shouldn’t automatically expect Schwarber to be putting up Bryant numbers – .357 average, 22 homers, 55 RBI – for Double-A Tennessee at this time next year.
“But we do feel that with his profile and the way that he handles himself as a hitter that (Schwarber) can move pretty quickly,” McLeod said. “It lines up perfectly there, because he is hitting from the left side and we don’t have many of those players, and because we feel this is an impact bat that could hit in the middle of an order.”