With Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell already in their lineup, seemingly the last thing the Chicago Cubs need is another talented young hitter. 

And yet there’s Kyle Schwarber. He’s knocking on the door to the majors, and his knocks are only getting louder.

It feels weird to say as much, knowing that it hasn’t even been a full year since the Cubs drafted the 22-year-old catcher/left fielder out of Indiana University. But that’s the way this cookie is crumbling. While Schwarber may be light on pro experience, he’s certainly made the most of what he’s gotten.

You can take it from his numbers. Starting at Low-A Boise last year and continuing through Double-A Tennessee this year, the lefty swinger has been an absolute beast since turning pro:

Note: These are current through Thursday, May 28.

Those are some really, really big numbers, and they have the attention of the big club’s skipper.

“Every time I look at that scoreboard back home, it’s ‘Schwarber, 3-for-5, home run, three RBIs.’ Even if it’s 1-for-5, it’s a game-winning RBI,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon this week, via Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. “He’s definitely got the hitting chip. He thinks he knows he can.”

For now, nobody’s saying a call-up to the majors is imminent for Schwarber. All Maddon was willing to say was that it’s “possible” he’ll debut before the end of 2015.

This is largely because the Cubs are determined to develop Schwarber as a catcher, and that’s where he needs work. He wasn’t regarded as a particularly gifted backstop when the Cubs drafted him, and Maddon granted that he’s still a “work in progress” behind the plate.

As time goes on, however, it may simply be too tempting for the Cubs to call on Schwarber to play left field, where they’re getting a modest .706 OPS from Chris Coghlan and others.

As ESPN’s Keith Law argued on Baseball Tonight“You could put him in left field now, and he would probably be their best offensive option.”

Clearly, Schwarber‘s minor league numbers lend credence to that notion. So do the skills that have made those numbers possible, which are just as worth getting excited about.

If we were to travel back in time a year, we wouldn’t find too many experts raving about Schwarber. He was well-regarded as a prospect heading into the 2014 draft, sure, but not that well-regarded.

For instance, MLB.com only had him rated as the draft’s No. 16 prospect. Baseball Prospectus had him at No. 17. Baseball America had him at No. 18. Law had him had him at No. 26.

So, cue an American League Central scout who recently spoke with Christopher Crawford of Baseball Prospectus.

“I was just as stunned as everyone else when the Cubs took Schwarber as high as they did, I thought he’d go in the top 15 or so, but no way did I think he belonged in the top five,” he said.

But then he added, “Turns out they knew what they were doing.”

Indeed, and that became apparent immediately after Schwarber set foot in the pros last summer.

By the time he finished destroying the opposition to the tune of a .344 average and a 1.061 OPS, he had become one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Per Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus all had Schwarber ranked as a top-100 prospect coming into 2015.

This is despite the fact that concerns over Schwarber‘s defense were universal, which tells you just how appealing the experts found his bat both from a power and average perspective.

To this end, Baseball America‘s scouting report adequately sums up what drives Schwarber‘s power potential: “He has thick, strong legs and swings from the ground up, incorporating his powerful lower half to deliver plus power with a short, furious, left-handed stroke. He keeps his hands back and has the strength to hit the ball out to any part of the park.”

All you need to do is look at Schwarber‘s listed size of 6’0″ and 235 pounds, and you’ll get a picture of a guy with a strong lower half from which to generate power. As for the rest of it, here are some moving pictures that can help:

Here’s where you can really get a sense of not only how sturdy Schwarber‘s lower half is but also just how quick his bat is. That’s an inside fastball that he let travel pretty deep into the hitting zone, yet he had no trouble getting around on it and punishing it.

What’s not pictured above is Schwarber‘s ability to hit the ball out to any part of the yard. But that’s something we can get a sense of from looking at his 2015 heat map from MLBFarm.com:

Not surprisingly, the biggest concentration of deep drives is to Schwarber‘s pull side out to right field. But there’s no shortage of long drives to center, and he hits some to left field as well. For only 42 games’ worth of Double-A action, that’s plenty encouraging.

Bottom line: The 28 homers Schwarber has in only 114 minor league games aren’t misleading. They indicate he could be a 30-homer guy in the majors, and he has the goods for the task.

However, Schwarber‘s power potential is only half the story. He’s also hit for average in the minors, and that’s another thing he projects to be capable of in the majors thanks to his advanced approach.

In a chat with Carrie Muskat of MLB.com, Maddon praised Schwarber for being a “very mature at-bat.” That’s backed up by the fact that he’s drawn walks in 14.9 percent of his professional plate appearances. That’s some real discipline right there, and Law noted that as something he didn’t expect from Schwarber coming out of the draft.

As for where that discipline is coming from, there’s more to it than just an awareness of the strike zone. Schwarber also has outstanding pitch recognition, a skill that tends to elude power-hitting prospects.

As one National League executive put it to Crawford, “The approach is just so advanced. He recognizes pitches at an elite level, and in the dozens of at-bats I’ve seen, I’ve never come away saying ‘that was a wasted at-bat.'”

Obviously, one catch is that Schwarber‘s advanced approach hasn’t kept him from racking up a less-than-awesome 19.7 strikeout rate in the minors. That’s partially the result of so many deep counts, but it’s also an upshot of so much movement in his load and timing device. As long as that remains the case, there’s going to be a swing-and-miss element to his game.

However, Schwarber‘s strikeout rate isn’t worth panicking over.

For perspective, his strikeout rate doesn’t look so bad next to the 26.6 strikeout percentage that Kris Bryant put up in the minors. All his strikeouts certainly didn’t stop him from posting numbers, and the same has been true of his major league career. He’s balancing a 29.2 strikeout percentage with a 14.9 percent walk rate and crushing the ball when he does put it in play. Schwarber could stick to the same model.

All told, you’re not just looking at a guy who has the potential to mash 30 home runs on an annual basis. You’re also looking at a guy whose average could sit between the high .200s and low .300s, with a solid on-base percentage to boot.

Of course, such production will be doubly valuable if Schwarber sticks at catcher. If that’s the route the Cubs want to go, all signs point toward it being in their interest not to rush Schwarber to the majors, where they currently have Miguel Montero.

But if the Cubs decide they’d rather embrace Schwarber‘s bat than wait on his glove, there’s more than a fair chance you could see him patrolling left field at Wrigley Field before the end of the year. That’s where the Cubs could use a high-ceiling offensive talent, and Schwarber has just the bat for the job.

Either way, get used to hearing Schwarber‘s name. Few things generate buzz these days quite like Cubs hitting prospects, and he’s just as worthy of buzz as those who came before him.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.

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