MESA, AZ – The Chicago Cubs Spring Training camp opened up on Tuesday morning, with pitchers and catchers reporting, along with some early reporting position players including Kyle Schwarber, who was a point of focus on Tuesday during Cubs’ President Theo Epstein’s opening press conference.
Schwarber missed nearly the entire 2016 regular season when he suffered a serious knee injury after a gruesome collision in the outfield during the Cubs opening series in Arizona in April of 2016. Schwarber became something of a spectacle in the 2016 World Series when he returned to action, far ahead of schedule to assume the designated hitter role in the games played at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Schwarber went 7 for 17 in the series, and helped the Cubs win there first World Series Championship in 108 years.
While Schwarber was cleared by team doctors on Tuesday to catch on a limited basis this spring, Epstein doesn’t see it being a frequent occurrence, despite Schwarber’s desire to continue to have the opportunity to catch on an occasional basis. Epstein summed up his decision to limit Schwarber to very limited catching duties with a catchy slogan, “We’re just going to walk before we squat,” he said.
Cubs Manager Joe Maddon echoed Epstein’s sentiments on the Schwarber topic, having this to say in regards to his plans for the third-year slugger out of the University of Indiana;
“He’s still coming off of a really significant injury and we have to be very careful with that,” Maddon said in the press conference which was streamed on CSN Chicago’s web site. “I’d like to see him be able to play an entire season, it’d be kind of nice to get a full season of ‘Kyle Schwarber Major League Baseball,’ so that’s the most important thing to get out of this. But yes, he will get some work as a catcher, we’ll break that in slowly and we’ll see how it plays out.”
As of now the Cubs catching situation is all but decided upon, with the talented youngster Willson Contreras set to assume the full-time catchers role in the 2017 season, including handling veteran starter Jon Lester‘s spot in the rotation with David Ross now retired. Contreras will be backed-up by veteran catcher Miguel Montero, who played a small role in the Cubs 2016 postseason run, to which he was vocal about this winter, expressing his concern for his lack of playing time.
The Cubs don’t have a whole lot to decide upon this spring, with their lineup and rotation being pretty much identical to that of the one that they ended the 2016 season with, minus Dexter Fowler who departed via free-agency this winter, joining the rival St. Louis Cardinals.
One area of concentration at this point will be the shared playing time between Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez, and Kyle Schwarber, with the three of them looking to assume an everyday role at just two positions on the field, left field and second base. Schwarber obviously will spend the majority of his playing time in left field, leaving Zobrist and Baez to seek the everyday job at second base.
While Cubs Manager Joe Maddon wouldn’t say what he plans to do this season, he offered up a potentially telling vote of confidence for Javier Baez, “Javy was so significant to the conclusion of last season, he’s going to be very significant again this year and years to come,” Maddon said. “Of course he’s going to play a lot, how it’s going to balance out we’re not 100 percent sure yet, but he’s pretty darn good.”
Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant were among the group of Cubs players who reported to camp early on Tuesday morning, as the Cubs look to prepare for the long haul ahead and attempt to repeat as World Series Champions, but Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer stressed that this spring, resting players, and remaining as fresh as possible will be a major focus.
The last two Cubs seasons ended on October 21, and November 2, and with very limited position battles and roster decisions up for grabs this spring, the Cubs will have an excellent opportunity to take it easy this spring.
Joe Maddon wouldn’t spill the beans on what the team’s spring slogan would be just yet, but hinted that he will do so on Friday when the remaining positional players report to camp to begin the first day of full-squad workouts in Mesa.
Stay with The Loop Sports all spring long as we bring you frequent Notes from Mesa, Cactus League game recaps and Analysis, and all of the deep analysis of the story-lines surrounding Spring Training 2017!