Maddon says Schwarber still front-runner to lead off

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs laughs with teammates during spring training at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona, Wednesday. Manager Joe Maddon said Thursday that he is sticking by his stated preference of batting Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot.

    Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs laughs with teammates during spring training at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona, Wednesday. Manager Joe Maddon said Thursday that he is sticking by his stated preference of batting Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 2/23/2017 6:38 PM

MESA, Ariz. -- Just before the Cubs convention in January, manager Joe Maddon tossed out the idea of Kyle Schwarber being the leadoff hitter.

That hasn't changed. Maddon reiterated that preference Thursday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Schwarber is the front-runner," Maddon said after the Cubs worked out lightly and then headed for a team golf outing. "You could always consider (Ben) Zobrist if you wanted to. You could talk about Jon Jay. I'd say they're the leaders in the clubhouse right now. But primarily I like the idea of Schwarbs.

"We're still toying with the idea of pitcher 8 (batting eighth) and then either Jay or (Albert) Almora in the 9-hole, which really makes it much more interesting to me."

Dexter Fowler was the Cubs' primary leadoff man the last two seasons, and his absence leaves a void. Maddon likes the power-hitting Schwarber in the leadoff spot because of his on-base ability. Schwarber will see most of his action in left field while being the third catcher behind Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero.

If Maddon does bat a position player ninth, he says it sets up that hitter with Schwarber, No. 2 hitter Kris Bryant and No. 3 man Anthony Rizzo.

"It's formidable, so it's uncomfortable from the other side," Maddon said. "We've got to keep these guys healthy. I believe with good health, you're going to see all these guys get better, every one of them."

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About the only thing Maddon said he won't do is give Schwarber the green light to steal, especially coming off knee surgery last April.

"No, I don't (want him running)," Maddon said. "And it's not from a lack of speed. All these guys try to be situational. With a hitting lineup like that, you don't want to run yourself into outs necessarily."

If Maddon goes with the pitcher batting eighth -- as he did for much of the 2015 season -- he said one concern would be making sure that whoever bats seventh can handle hitting in front of the pitcher.

The next step:

The Cubs regulars took Thursday's batting practice and some fielding work at the main Sloan Park Stadium.

The Cactus League season opens for the Cubs Saturday. They play the Athletics at Sloan Park while a split-squad of Cubs will play the Giants in Scottsdale.

"The guys always want to play in the regular ballpark," Joe Maddon said. "I heard it went really well."

Maddon stayed back at one of the other practice fields to watch younger players hit.

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