Last year, when Kyle Schwarber tore two knee ligaments in an outfield collision in the second game of the season, it seemed his days as a catcher were over. It was rather miraculous when he made it back in time for the World Series, though even then he was limited to DH duty.
Schwarber, who is now nine months out from knee surgery, has been cleared by doctors to resume catching. The Cubs confirmed the news Wednesday morning.
Schwarber officially cleared to catch— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) February 15, 2017
That is certainly good news. Health is the most important thing and Schwarber’s knee now seems to be 100 percent good to go. Chicago’s lineup will be even deeper this summer.
Despite the medical clearance, the Cubs don’t figure to use Schwarber much behind the plate during the regular season. Manager Joe Maddon confirmed earlier this week that Willson Contreras will be the starting catcher and Miguel Montero the backup. Schwarber would be, at best, the emergency third catcher.
Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune has the details:
“Maybe the catching gets more pertinent at that time as he gets well and there’s a greater need (for us) for him to play behind the plate,” Maddon said.
For now, Schwarber will be part of the catching group each morning but will perform physical drills only once or twice a week with coach Mike Borzello, known for his creativity in keeping catchers sharp despite age or injury limitations.
Even before the knee injury, there weren’t many folks who expected Schwarber to remain behind the plate long-term. He wasn’t particularly good defensively. Schwarber was always a bat-first guy. The Cubs would have lived with the shaky defense in exchange for the big bat.
As long as the doctors give the thumbs up, which they have, there’s no reason not to give Schwarber some time behind the plate in spring training. You never know when the need will arise during the season. This way, at least Schwarber will get re-acclimated with the position before being asked to play it in a game that counts.
The plan for the coming season seems to be playing Schwarber in left field -- or even platooning him with Ben Zobrist to some extent -- and that’s about it. If he winds up behind the plate, it’ll be in an emergency situation. Montero will be a free agent after the season though. Would the Cubs consider giving Schwarber more time at catcher in 2018? I guess that depends how he looks at the position during spring training.