The news recently broke, Kyle Schwarber will miss the remainder of the 2016 MLB season with a torn ACL and LCL. Schwarber hit .246 with 16 home runs and 43 RBIs in 69 games in 2015. He was the team’s primary left fielder and the backup catcher, slated to catch Jason Hammel during the regular season as David Ross does for John Lester; Schwarber’s first start behind the plate would have been Friday. The “next man up” approach shouldn’t deter Cubs fans from their already monumental expectations for their Cubbies in the 2016 season. According to Joe Maddon, Jorge Soler and Tommy LaStella will see extended time in Schwarber’s place with Kris Bryant getting some time in the outfield as well. I think this open’s up the door for a player who has recently made headlines for the Cubs. The Villanova grad, Matt Szczur, might see an expanded role due to this unfortunate event.
Szczur made noise at the end of Spring Training with the Cubs and even earned himself a spot on the 25 man roster. Just 2 days ago there was speculation that once Javier Baez returns from the DL (as soon as Saturday) that the Cubs would send down a relief pitcher instead of Szczur or possibly even Tommy LaStella. With this injury to Schwarber it seems that the 25 man roster is now set in stone and no tough decisions have to be made.
Now the question becomes, who replaces Schwarber in left field? Well, knowing Joe Maddon and seeing what he did with the Cubs lineup last year and what he did during Spring Training this year, I think it’s safe to say that Joe will be going with a platoon approach. Depending on the weather, the opposing pitcher, how his players feel that day, or apparently what a player’s Alma Mater does in the NCAA basketball championship the day before (see Szczur, Matt), Joe Maddon could go with any of the following: Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Tommy LaStella, Matt Szczur, or Javier Baez, on any given day.
Kris Bryant – KB is primarily the 3rd baseman for the Cubs so expect him to see the least amount of time in left of these 5 (even though he was the one to play left immediately after Schwarber got carted off on Thursday). When KB is in left, Baez or LaStella will likely be at 3rd.
Jorge Soler – Besides Bryant, Soler has the most pop off his bat out of the remaining 4. When he is used in left he will likely be in the middle of the lineup and in parks that are more favorable towards hitters. His Achilles heel, however, is that he is less than fond of the colder weather. This can be a problem in Chicago as many of you know. Soler will be slightly more absent from the lineup in April and October than he will be in July and August.
Tommy LaStella – LaStella has one huge benefit over the other 4 in this group, he is the only left handed hitter. Schwarber had a monster bat on the left side that will be missed but the Cubs will be able to rely on LaStella when facing pitchers that struggle against lefties. This is despite the fact that LaStella isn’t known for hitting the long ball like Soler and Baez. There are 2 sides to every coin though, when the Cubs are looking for contact throughout their lineup LaStella will be getting the nod along with Szczur instead of Soler and Baez.
Matt Szczur – The two hitters with the most reliable bats in this group are Matt Szczur and Tommy LaStella. As was said above, if Maddon is looking to get players on base then he is more likely to go with these 2 over Baez and Soler. According to Maddon, Szczur made a slight adjustment to his swing that had led to a little more power from Szczur though. Also, Szczur is the only other natural outfielder in this group beside Soler. Szczur might be the choice for Maddon late in games when the Cubs are winning.
Javier Baez – The best defensive player in this group is Javier Baez. Throughout his time in the minors many of his coaches said that he is the best defensive player that the Cubs have, and that was when he wasn’t even on the Cubs! His bat has power that the Cubs cherish but Baez is the biggest asset to the Cubs through his glove. You will see Baez all over the field throughout the season, but when you see him in left it will likely be when the Cubs are up big and later in games.
Schwarber was naturally a catcher but he wasn’t as sound defensively as the Cubs maybe would have liked. His hitting is why he learned to play left in the first place; they needed his bat in the lineup as much as possible. When it comes to a replacement at catcher this won’t be too difficult to figure out. Schwarber was Jason Hammel’s personal catcher in Spring Training and was going to continue that trend throughout the season. Fortunately for the Cubs, they have a solid starter in Miguel Montero and a seasoned veteran in David Ross. Oddly enough, they both hit from different sides of the plate. Montero is the better hitter of the 2 and will likely continue to dominate time behind the plate as the sanctioned starter but you could see more of David Ross against pitchers who struggle against right handed hitters.
Kyle Schwarber gave the Cubs a big advantage that they will now have to live without, but will his injury impair the Cubs season trajectory? No, I don’t think so. The Cubs have been rebuilding for years under Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein. They have brought in amazing young talent and have surrounded that with experienced veterans. Even after the rookie class they brought up last season, the Cubs still have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. The Cubs are built to win and to win now. Losing Schwarber won’t send this freight train off the rails, it will be a meek memory come the end of October
Feature Image by AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin