The Situation: The 34-27 Cubs have been one of the best stories in baseball, and though it will only last for a week—or so the team says, anyway—Chicago will get another glimpse of its future when they promote Schwarber on Tuesday.
Background: Schwarber was an offensive stalwart at Indiana, but scouts were split not only on whether or not he’d be able to catch, but how high his ceiling was, despite his awfully impressive numbers. The Cubs were not one of those teams, and surprised many when they made him the fourth overall selection of the 2014 draft. The number of doubters in his bat dropped precipitously when Schwarber put up a 1.061 OPS in his first professional season, and he’s been just as impressive in Double-A Tennessee in 2015 with a 1.017 OPS and 13 homers before his promotion.
Scouting Report: Schwarber’s swing wouldn’t be described as picturesque—there’s some odd hand movement and his balance won’t remind anyone of Carlos Correa—but the bat speed is above average. The plus power potential in his left-handed bat not only comes from his impressive lower-half strength, but from a combination of allowing the ball to travel deep and keeps his hands inside. In fact, it could even push it to a plus-plus grade. He’s not just a power hitter though, as Schwarber has elite pitch-recognition skills and hand-eye coordination. His swing path, along with the aforementioned bat speed, makes the hit tool a potential 60 as well. Finally, while he won’t be mistaken for recently elected Hall of Famer Craig Biggio on the base paths, he does have better speed than the average catcher, and he’s not a guy you have to pinch run for late in games like many backstops are today.
The question with Schwarber is on defense, and while he’s still very much a work in progress behind the plate, his improvement throughout his short time in pro ball is really impressive. He’s sure-handed and does a solid job of keeping pitches in front of him. His receiving skills—while still very raw—seem to get better each month. There’s still a ways to go with his footwork though, and because his raw arm strength is below average, he will likely be tested early and often. There’s just enough athleticism to suggest he could play left field, or first base at worst, but the Cubs should give him every chance to stay behind the plate. The strides he’s taken in 2015 suggest he can stay there at least in the near term.
Immediate Big League Future: If Schwarber is really only up for a week to act as a designated hitter/third catcher/bench bat/team ball boy, we really aren’t going to get a chance to answer very many of the questions we have about the ceiling and floor. I always take these announcements of how long a player will be up with a heaping spoonful of salt however, and if Schwarber rakes (as he’s done since being drafted), the Cubs are going to find a way to get his left-handed bat in the lineup. I wouldn’t necessarily bet on immediate success upon making the jump from Double-A—because no one should bet on that—but this is an advanced offensive prospect, and he’s as qualified as any to come up and produce at the big league level. —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Impact: Not only did the Chicago Blackhawks hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup for the third time in six seasons last night, but also the “Year of the Prospect” continues to roll on in the Windy City. It began with the spring arrivals of both Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, and now the Cubs faithful (and fantasy owners alike) will be receiving a week’s worth of exposure to the electrifying power bat of Kyle Schwarber. According to Theo Epstein, he will be with the team for six days to “contribute as a designated hitter, as a bat off the bench, and as a third catcher” for a pair of interleague series on the road against Cleveland and Minnesota, and “regardless of how this week goes, he will head to Triple-A following Sunday’s game.”
Schwarber is to power hitting what Guy Fieri is to frosted tips. It’s the very first thing you associate with him. Not only is it a signature calling card, but also it’s what separates him from every other catching prospect in the game right now. Fantasy owners will be hard pressed to find a more complete hitting prospect (at any position) left in the minors in terms of ability to hit for both average and power. Fantasy overlord Bret Sayre ranked Schwarber ranked as the 22nd best fantasy prospect in the game entering this season, after he slugged 18 home runs in just 311 plate appearances over three levels last year. He’s followed up his stellar professional debut by slashing .318/.439/.578 with 13 home runs in 238 plate appearances (57 games) at Double-A this season.
Unlike the recent promotions of fellow uber-prospects like Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa and Joey Gallo, there is virtually zero chance that Schwarber remains in The Show for more than a couple days, which dims the excitement factor slightly. As Kevin Garnett once said, anything is possible, but there simply isn’t enough juice in the orange to justify a sizeable FAAB bid in re-draft leagues. Even in two-catcher NL-only formats, a bid of $15 is more about the hope that he’ll be given a chance to run with a job in the second half, than a statement on what he’ll provide in this promotion. Even in the short term, expecting anything more than a few home runs over the next few days is a reach, especially considering his matchups. Schwarber, who has struck out in just over 20 percent of his plate appearances at Double-A this year, will square off with Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco—who have racked up an astounding 247 strikeouts combined over 216 2/3 innings of work this season—in his first series. After facing a dynamic trio of strikeout artists, he will contend with the spacious dimensions of Target Field and a Minnesota staff that suddenly isn’t getting pushed around anymore.
Long-term, there are few more lucrative investments than Schwarber’s offensive profile in keeper and dynasty leagues right now. He has the tantalizing potential to hit for a near .300 average and reach the 30-home-run plateau annually, which would instantly make him the most valuable catcher in fantasy baseball. The elephant in the room is his defense. It doesn’t impact his fantasy potential at the plate as much as you’d think because he’s the type of hitter you make room for in your lineup regardless of where you have to play him, but it does affect how quickly he arrives in Chicago on a permanent basis. The million-dollar question from a fantasy perspective, which we can’t answer at this point, is whether or not he retains catcher eligibility long-term. Either way, he needs to be owned in almost all continuing formats, and all dynasty leagues. —George Bissell