Why Cubs' Schwarber again eager to prove doubters wrong
MESA, Ariz. -- Kyle Schwarber rolled up his sleeve Monday morning and revealed a battle scar.
"Got a boo-boo," he said. "Good catch, I guess. Just trying to make the catch."
The catch in question was more than a good one. During Sunday's game against the San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale, Schwarber made a running and diving catch of Henry Ramos' foul fly ball to end the first inning.
Schwarber slid along the warning track and gave himself a pretty good scrape along the inner part of his right forearm.
The dive and the catch impressed manager Joe Maddon, but so did something else.
"Went a long way on that and ran a nice route," Maddon said. "I'm really trying to put an emphasis on first step at every position on defense -- first move. Everybody always loves the sexy, watching themselves hit, striking somebody out, watching that nice pitch. But very few times do players have a chance to watch themselves move in the first movement.
"I'm really trying to convince them that the big plays are made on the front part of the play, not the latter part. You all saw him yesterday scraping his arm falling down, whatever he did at the end. But to get there, the first move has to be efficient."
Schwarber, who turns 26 on March 5, comes to camp still trying to prove the doubters wrong despite overall productive numbers at the plate and better defense than sometimes meets the eye.
"I try to be the best player I can be, especially on the defensive side," he said. "You can obviously impact games on the offensive side, but you can also impact games on the defensive side the ball. Now that I'm not a catcher anymore, I'm putting all my focus on being an outfielder and on the strides made last year. I've got a great group of outfielders around me. I've got Will Venable, too, the outfield coach, who has great information."
As Maddon has said more than once, tell Schwarber he can't do something, and he'll prove you wrong or scratch up his body trying.
"If someone says, 'Oh, he can't play defense,' I'll prove you wrong, or, 'Can't hit lefties,' I'll prove you wrong, too," Schwarber said. "I'm here to put in the work. I'm not here to just enjoy being here. I want to keep playing games and keep winning more championships."
The advanced defensive metrics, particularly ultimate zone rating/150 (runs above average per 150 games) have been kind to Schwarber, perhaps to the surprise of many. His UZR/150 rose from 8.8 to 14 fro 2017 to 2018.
With the bat, Schwarber put up a line of .238/.356/.467 with 26 homers and 61 RBI last year. His OPS rose from .782 to .823 from 2017 to '18, and his OPS-plus (where 100 is league average) went from 99 to 115. Twenty-five of the left-handed-hitting Schwarber's 26 homers came against right-handed pitchers.
"I just want to be more consistent," he said. "I think consistency is the name of the game. You look at the great players in this clubhouse and around the league, they're consistent. For me, too, it's also keeping it simple and going out there having fun and enjoying the game.
"I think I know what I've got in the tank, but I'm not here to go chase numbers. I want to put in a good consistent workload, trust my workload before the game and be able to trust myself going out there into the game and worry about getting the win."
Maddon said it's about taking the next step for the Cubs' first-round draft pick in 2014.
"He's already done some good major-league work, but I think he's starting to understand more of what it takes to really have his abilities perform on a daily basis," the manager said. "What does it take to do that? I mean the consistency at the plate as an example, the ability to drive in runs with singles and not just hit the ball out of the ballpark. He's really applied himself in a lot of different areas right now. He's wonderful to work with, man, and he's a great teammate."
As one of the Cubs' touted "core" of young players that is now maturing, Schwarber said he's on board with team president Theo Epstein's edict last fall of it being time for "production" and not "potential."
"Oh, yeah. I believe it," he said. "It's time for everyone in here. I would say for me, I want to start producing more. That's why I want to be more consistent. I'm on board with that."
Even though Schwarber's catching days appear to be permanently in the past, there might be a pang or two of nostalgia.
"There's still a little string in my heart, but I think I've accepted it, that, 'Hey, there's probably not a chance,'" he said. "I was walking by the bullpens watching the pitchers and catchers, and I go, 'Hey, Theo, you want me to get back there?' Without hesitation, he says, 'No.' All right. I get it. We laughed at it. I'm just focused on being an outfielder right now."