Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber determined to improve defense

Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber catches a ball hit by the Nationals' Bryce Harper in Game 1 of the National League Division Series Oct. 6, 2017, at Nationals Park in Washington.[]

Over the years, the Cubs have gotten by with the left-field play of Dave Kingman, Henry Rodriguez and Glenallen Hill.

They can get by – and even thrive – with Kyle Schwarber in left.

The days of Schwarber working with the catchers in spring training are over, even though he promises to sneak back behind the plate and be ready for emergency duty.

Schwarber will have his hands full in left field, but much like anything else when it comes to this player, if you tell him he can’t do something, he’ll at least give it a go.

“I would say a self goal would be to be really good at defense,” he said. “I want to be a really solid defender out there and be out there and make those plays and go shake hands at the end of the game. That’s what I want to be. I don’t want to be the National League DH. I just want to go out there and keep working on my defense. At the end of the day, I’m going to work my butt off. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out, but I’m planning on it working out.”

By all accounts, Schwarber is giving it a serious go in spring training. Part of the the good early results might be attributed to his much-publicized effort to get into better playing shape by losing about 20 pounds this offseason.

Manager Joe Maddon always has been a backer of Schwarber as a outfielder. He says the weight loss only can help in making Schwarber more nimble in left. He said Schwarber looks even better to him this spring.

“He honestly does,” Maddon said. “I don’t think it’s just, ‘Oh, he looks thinner so he’s going to be quicker or more nimble.’ He is. I’ve watched him run the bases. It seems everything moves a lot more easily. Having said that, I never thought he was slow. I’ve always thought that he moved pretty well for a big man. I just think that all this is going to help.”

Maddon also said Schwarber’s hard work should be rewarded.

“When you mentally do what he did, when you just do that mentally, it’s kind of like you deserve to do that even better,” he said. “He’s going to be better for the work that he did, plus the information he’s received. Now he’s going about his business as always. Plus he’s playing the outfield for another year. In and of itself, that’s going to help.”

Of course, the old saying is that if a player can hit 30 home runs – even in a “down” season as Schwarber had last year – a team will find a place for his bat.

Schwarber’s overall line last year was .211/.315/.467 with 59 RBIs to go along with the 30 homers. He spent a short stint at Triple-A Iowa after a failed experiment as a leadoff hitter but finished with an OPS of .938 with six homers over the final month of the season.
Schwarber may be subbed out of games late if the Cubs have the lead. Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr. can play left field. It will be up to Schwarber whether he can stay on the field to shake hands after victories.

“There’s no negativity,” he said. “It’s just I want to go out there and finish that game. I want to take pride in what I do. I’m an outfielder now, so that’s my job. I want to go out and be really good at the outfield and not leave anything out. That’s kind of what this offseason was about. It wasn’t the year I wanted it to be (last season). So try to control what I can control, and that’s what I’m doing now – just go out there and work on defense and everything like that.”