By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) — With the start of the regular season about two weeks away, Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber has come to a realization.
“I am an outfielder,” Schwarber said this week. “I have embraced that idea going forward. I had always thought of myself as a ballplayer and a catcher. Now I am an outfielder.”
After coming up through the prep, college and minor league ranks as a catcher, the 24-year-old Schwarber is now prepared for a full-time outfielder role. Where he could still get time behind the plate is as the third catcher behind Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero.
With Schwarber’s knee surgery of last April and ensuing rehab in the rearview mirror, the Cubs don’t envision starting him at catcher much, if any, but he could catch a portion of some games in 2017. It’s still anyone’s guess as to how many, and manager Joe Maddon hinted on 670 The Score this past week that Schwarber would probably catch fewer than 75 total innings this season. Schwarber hasn’t caught in a Cactus League game so far this spring, but he still sits in on pitcher and catcher meetings.
“My drills are focused,” Schwarber said. “That said, we are not doing tons of stuff every day. It is more on what me and (bench coach Davey Martinez) feel we need to concentrate on. I feel really comfortable out there. When we do our extra work, I feel the same way.”
On Saturday, Schwarber started in right field for the second straight day, though he’s likely to be the usual left fielder in the regular season. What hasn’t changed is his ability to crush the ball. On Friday, he drilled a 450-foot three-run homer off White Sox left-hander Derek Holland.
“It was a sinking fastball,” Holland said. “I wasn’t upset about that as much as I was about walking the two previous guys.”
The homer off Holland was notable in Schwarber’s mind because a goal of his is to hit left-hander and off-speed pitches better this season. Schwarber has hit .143 in 61 career plate appearances against left-handers.
“That comes with experience,” Schwarber said. “I think watching the other guys last season and breaking down video has helped me prepare for this year.”
Schwarber has also struck out 44.3 percent of the time against left-handers. It’s the job of manager Joe Maddon to get the most out of Schwarber and help his development while also resting his surgically repaired knee in a judicious way.
“We have been talking about being proactive with that,” Maddon said of resting Schwarber. “Left- handed starters might build that in for you. We don’t really have very many left-handed starters in the National League Central. He will hit against lefties in game. At the start, it might be the perfect thing to give him those days (off).”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.