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We got too excited about Kyle Schwarber last offseason.
To be fair, there was a lot to get excited about. He had a strong rookie season, during which he hit postseason five homers, and then played in just two games before suffering a (regular) season-ending injury, so we didn't get to see how the league adjusted – beyond a memorable World Series return during which he more than held his own after a long layoff.
At this point last year, Schwarber was being drafted safely within the top-100, with an average draft position around the sixth/seventh-round turn. To give a sense of how high expectations were for Schwarber, he was being drafted in the same range a year ago as Khris Davis is right now – Davis, of course, is coming off a two-year stretch that has seen him average 88 runs, 42.5 homers, 106 RBI and a .247 average.
In 2017 draft season, Schwarber was a perfect example of Fantasy players drafting for a players' upside without accounting for their downside. We saw what that downside was in 2017 as he struggled to make contact, looked consistently lost in the field, and ultimately found himself sent back to Triple-A for a few weeks in the middle of the summer. Schwarber struck out 28.7 percent of the time prior to the assignment to the minors, and posted a paltry .556 OPS against lefties in that time.
That was the downside.
However, while Schwarber was being drafted for his upside in 2017, Fantasy owners probably aren't taking enough of his upside into account in drafts this time around. And, just as we saw his downside last season, we also saw an extended stretch of upside from him when Schwarber appeared in 61 games (48 starts) after making his return to the majors, homering 17 times and hitting .253/.335/.559. That looks an awful lot like Khris Davis, doesn't it?
Despite that, Schwarber's current Average Draft Position at FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings is just 167th overall, behind similarly unproven young players as Greg Bird and Nomar Mazara. Neither was much more impressive than Schwarber in 2017 for various reasons, and I would argue neither has the kind of upside that Schwarber does. And what we've seen and heard early in the spring has me even more excited about his potential.
I usually roll my eyes at reports of players being in the best shape of their lives, but with Schwarber, it's hard to dispute:
Schwarber looks great, reportedly losing 20 pounds in the offseason. And he put himself on display early in spring action.
Schwarber, who has just four career stolen bases in the majors, swiped a couple of bases in Sunday's spring game against the Giants, and he did it against Buster Posey, one of the best defensive catchers in the game. That came after a hit to right field off Madison Bumgarner, one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game.
I don't want to overreact to spring training, especially not one game in February, but ... that's exciting! It may not mean anything, but it is Schwarber showing in the first action of the spring that he may have made at least some progress in fixing two of his biggest flaws. I'm not expecting Schwarber to go out there and steal 15 bases, or anything, but a little extra athleticism might just mean he can play a passable left field, giving the Cubs one fewer reason to take his bat out of the lineup. I wouldn't expect him to triple-slash .300/.400/.500 against southpaws, but if he can show signs of holding his own, that could similarly boost his value.
We know what Schwarber's upside is. Even during a season when he struggled to make consistent contact, Schwarber sported a 36.4 percent hard-contact rate, well above league average, and ranked 17th in barrels per plate appearance (a "barrel" is MLB's definition of an ideally struck ball), ahead of the likes of Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Manny Machado and many more.
The question at this point is more about consistency. When he's locked in, Schwarber can absolutely crush the ball, but he was lost for the first half of the 2017 season. There's a chance he never puts it together, and even this newly slimmed down version of Schwarber likely won't do enough else well to keep his bat in the lineup every day if he isn't hitting well. A guy his size batting from the left side of the plate will probably always have trouble excelling against lefties, and even righties will have times when they can exploit holes in his swing. It's about making those moments fewer and farther in between.
At his current draft price, there's very little downside with Schwarber. He has comparable upside to popular young breakout picks like Matt Olson (131st overall) and Joey Gallo (129th), not to mention older, less exciting players like Adam Jones (124th), Jake Lamb (113th), or Jay Bruce (144th), and can be had multiple rounds later than all of them.
He's an excellent value right now, and will be as long as you can get him in the 13th round or later. The guy we were all so excited about a year ago is still in there, waiting to mash his way out.