It was a sunny July day in Clinton, Iowa, and I was taking pictures at the batting cage of Cubs first-round pick—Kyle Schwarber.
Schwarber’s hitting group surrounded the cage, manger Mark Johnson threw batting practice, hitting coach Tommy Byers was talking with players, and there was a guy in a red shirt, everyone knew him but me.
I kept taking pictures, he eventually came over to the cage and that’s when I met Cubs Minor League Field Coordinator Tim Cossins, who’s also the minor league catching instructor. I was full of questions, he filled me with insight on the Cubs organization, and then we started talking about the Cubs top pick. While many in the baseball world thought Schwarber’s future was in the outfield, I found out differently.
Cossins told me the plan was to have Schwarber catch and he had personally scouted him a few times before the draft, something he normally doesn’t do, saying he never went to see catcher Mark Zagunis play (Cubs third round pick).
After meeting Schwarber, it didn’t take long to figure out why the Cubs drafted him or if there were any questions about his desire to become a big league catcher.
Schwarber said he had learned quite a bit in his short stint at Kane County from former big league catcher and manager Mark Johnson along with Cossins. “We’ve worked on defense, fundamental things with body, tweaking and changing some things with my set-up and exchange.”
While Schwarber has an extensive video system at his disposal, he also pays attention to hitters during the game. “Its about the same as in college. You’ll watch video and take mental notes but as a catcher, you’re able to see some things that the pitcher may not when the hitter is swinging, so it s combination of video and in-game adjustments.”
He’s also taken a liking to calling his own game, something he didn’t do at Indiana. “I didn’t do it in college but I did in the summer ball I played. I’m comfortable with it and something you take pride in and have to take it very serious, and love doing it.”
Name: Kyle Schwarber, C
Age: 22 (3/5/1993)
Weight: 235 pounds
How acquired: Drafted in the first round 2014, # 4 overall, out of the University of Indiana. Scouted by Stan Zielinski
Boise Hawks, Northwest League, Short-Season (5 G, .600/.625/.1/350, 4 HR, 10 RBI);
Kane County Cougars, Midwest League, Low A, (23 G, .361/.448/.602, 4 HR, 15 RBI);
Daytona Cubs, Florida State League, High A (44 G, .302/.393/.560, 10 HR, 28 RBI).
Prior to Cubs
A two-sport star at Middleton High School in Ohio, Schwarber was a four-time team MVP in baseball and a 2nd team all-Ohio linebacker. Undrafted and without much fanfare, Schwarber headed to Indiana University and transformed himself into the fourth overall pick. As a freshman in 2012, Schwarber started all 60 games, including 54 at catcher. He hit .300/.390/.513 with 8 HR and 47 RBI, and threw out 27 base-stealers, 2nd in the Big Ten. In 2013, he was named the top catcher in the country and First Team All-American by Perfect Game and the NCBWA after hitting .366/.456/.647 with 18 HR (first in the Big Ten and third nationally) and 54 RBI in 61 games. He was named Academic All-Big Ten and joined USA's Collegiate National Team after the season. His final season, he batted .358/.464/.659 with 14 HR (tied for seventh-most in the nation) and 48 RBI, adding career-highs with 66 R, 16 2B, 6 3B, 44 BB, 30 K, and 10 SB while starting all 59 games. During his career for the Hoosiers, Schwarber hit .341 with 40 HR and 149 RBI in 180 games, adding 182 runs, 41 doubles, 12 triples and 23 stolen bases. He walked 116 times compared to 91 strikeouts, leading to a .437 on-base percentage and threw out 51 of 154 (33 percent) of attempted base stealers.
Schwarber needed just over a week to go from the Cubs first-round pick to in uniform for the Boise Hawks for his pro debut. He didn’t disappoint as the Ohio native went 3-for-4, slugged his first homer, and knocked in three runs. Before he left town Schwarber earned Northwest Player of the Week honors after hitting .600/.625/1.350 with 4 HR and 10 RBI in five games. Promoted to Kane County in the Midwest League, Schwarber appeared in 23 games for the Cougars, batting .361/.448/.602 with 4 HR, 15 RBI and 17 runs. He was named MWL player of the week for June 16-22 and was shipped to Daytona on July 16. Part of the D-Cubs second-half pennant drive, Schwarber spent his time between left field (26 starts) and catcher (9 starts). In 44 games in the FSL, Schwarber hit .302/.393/.560 with 10 HR and 26 RBI, picked up his third player of the week honor for Aug. 18-24, and was named the Cubs Minor League Player of the Month for August. He capped off his year going 4-for-23 in Daytona’s six playoff games with a homer and 6 RBI.
Schwarber proved to everyone that he can hit with a special blend of power and patience. Now he’s out to prove he can be a big league catcher. According to reports, he paid for his own plane ticket to fly to California during the off-season to work with Cossins on his backstop skills. He got to showcase some of that talent in spring training, throwing out a pair of runners in the final game against the Diamondbacks, not to mention a grand slam homer on his 22nd birthday. Schwarber will be the starting everyday catcher at AA and while most fans will be keeping an eye on his bat, his defensive skills behind the plate will be under the constant watch of scouts as well as the Cubs organization. Schwarber has a keen eye, the ability to work counts in his favor, and isn’t afraid to hit when he’s behind. He’s also a better athlete than people give him credit for and shows decent speed getting out of the box and running the bases.