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posted: 9/1/2014 8:00 AM

Rozner: If Schwarber catches on, Cubs have big options

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  • If Kyle Schwarber stays behind the plate, it will open all sorts of lineup possibilities for the Cubs for years to come.

    If Kyle Schwarber stays behind the plate, it will open all sorts of lineup possibilities for the Cubs for years to come.
    Associated Press File Photo/July 2013


The parade of prospects has begun.

They are arriving on the North Side of Chicago, and it's a sight to behold.

For those who didn't believe in the plan or understand it, this has to be perplexing, but that's nothing compared to the rest of the NL Central, which is watching this happen while understanding that the best has yet to come.

Sure, Jorge Soler can hit it a mile and Javy Baez at least half that far, but it may be nothing compared to the power possessed by Kris Bryant.

Or Kyle Schwarber.

Yeah, Schwarber is a little further down the chain, so most of the focus has been on Bryant and his arrival in 2015, but Schwarber, well, he may be a game-changer.

Cubs boss Theo Epstein was on the Score with us a couple days ago and said he has big plans this fall for the left-handed hitting Schwarber, who was thought to be targeted for left field after being drafted as a catcher.

"We're gonna send him to the Instructional League and really focus on his catching," Epstein said. "He's made some big strides already from where he was in college.

"Defense, especially defense behind the plate, that's an area where players can see significant improvement. You can coach or teach plate discipline all you want, year after year, and you may never see significant improvement.

"But with defense if you have a player who's a good athlete and has good coordination -- and Kyle's a sneaky good athlete -- and you have a player with excellent work ethic and makeup -- and that's Kyle -- you can see significant gains defensively.

"That's going to be our focus. With the way the pieces are coming together, if Kyle can make it work behind the plate -- and we think he can, especially from a leadership standpoint -- he really rounds out our lineup and complements our team extremely well."

Yeah, see Epstein is starting to see spots fill up on the puzzle board and he drools at the possibility of putting Schwarber's bat behind the plate.

If it's not catcher, it probably has to be left field, and Epstein would like to leave that chair open for another monster bat when the music stops playing and guys run out of positions they can play.

So down the road maybe it's Albert Almora leading off and playing center field, Addison Russell at short and in the No. 2 spot and Anthony Rizzo at first and batting third.

Bryant could bat cleanup and, for the sake of this hypothetical lineup, play third base, with Schwarber batting fifth and catching and Soler batting sixth and playing right.

That leaves Nos. 7 and 8 with second base and left field open for some combination of Baez, Starlin Castro, Arismendy Alcantara, Billy McKinney and players yet to be named.

Maybe Baez winds up at third and Bryant in left. Maybe Castro stays at short, switches positions or is traded. Maybe it's McKinney, not Almora in center. Maybe Schwarber doesn't make it as a catcher.

But any way you slice it, from the second hole through the sixth you're talking about a thunderous lineup that alternates from right-handed to left-handed, offering power and run production the entire way.

If Baez is still around -- regardless of position -- and batting seventh, it's a truly frightening order that will keep opposing pitchers up at night.

"From the first time we laid eyes on (Schwarber), we wanted him to be a Cub," Epstein said. "It's what he does in the batter's box; it's what he does with leadership and how he plays the game and who he is as a person.

"He's going to be a special player here for a long time if he stays on this trajectory and if he continues to work hard, and with his makeup I don't worry about that.

"We're in jeopardy of getting a little too right-handed. I love left-handed hitters, and we all want to create as much balance as we can. We're in danger of being a club that's a little too aggressive and we really value control in the strike zone and plate discipline.

"Kyle is an extremely disciplined hitter. He's a pure hitter. He's got a unique ability to see the ball out of the hand and barrel the baseball, take his walks, get pitches to drive. He's got huge power, hits it to all fields. He can hit some light-tower home runs to the pull side and to the big part of the field."

Go ahead and take a few moments to ponder the possibilities. No, it's OK, really, go ahead. You've been waiting years to see it and now it's only a year or so away from happening. It could be something truly remarkable.

And just like that, for the first time in a long time, that light at the end of the tunnel doesn't look like an oncoming train.

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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