By Bruce Levine–
MESA, ARIZ. (CBS) — The answer to the question of whether Cubs third-year slugger Kyle Schwarber will continue his catching career appears to be yes.
After recovering from reconstructive left knee surgery, Schwarber is scheduled to get some work in as a catcher in spring training, pending medical clearance from Dr. Stephen Gryzlo. Schwarber was set to be evaluated Tuesday as Cubs pitchers and catchers reported to spring training.
“The plan is if he is medically cleared to start introducing some catching for him,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. Tuesday. “We are really going to go slow with it, one or two days a week in spring training. His primary focus will be as a left fielder. The goal, if he is cleared, is to have him ready at the end of spring training to fill the role of third catcher. This will be so if something happens in game, (manager Joe Maddon) can move him back there. There may be a certain rare occasion where it may make sense to give him a start. We will not give him too much. His future is too valuable. We want him to have the longest possible career.”
Second-year pro Willson Contreras will be Chicago’s primary catcher this season, while veteran Miguel Montero also remains in the mix.
Schwarber, who turns 24 in March, missed almost all of 2016 after tearing ligament n his left knee last April in an outfield collision in the first week of the regular season. He made a surprise return in the World Series, where he served as the team’s designated hitter and batted .412.
Schwarber will wear a brace all season long on his left knee for protection, and he was already sporting it Tuesday. He has no restrictions in his running, he said.
Schwarber has emphasized time and again he’d still like to catch, but he understands the big picture.
If I can do it, I want to do it,” Schwarber said Tuesday. “But if it’s not medically safe, you know, don’t risk it.”
The Cubs also are keeping the big picture in mind with everything they do.
“Kyle makes such a great impact on us with his bat,” Epstein said. “With the person that he is, we don’t want to risk the length or impact of his career. We are just going to walk before we run — or walk before we squat and really ease into it. He will be with the catching group every morning. He will only do physical catching duties one or two days a week. Kyle might do things like stick one leg out or use a stool and thinking through the drills with the catchers and communicating with them.”
Schwarber knows most of his playing time will come in left field, but catcher is a position he also has a passion for.
“If I can do it, I want to do it,” Schwarber said. “I guess I would say now I am a left fielder first, then a catcher. I would like to do it. If not, we must be smart about it. I am sure they will lay out something for me, and I will take it head on.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.