The important thing to remember with Kyle Schwarber is just how few major-league plate appearances he has made.
So Thursday’s decision by the Chicago Cubs to option the 24-year-old outfielder to Class AAA Iowa wasn’t as shocking as it may have seemed at first.
As the Cubs got set to begin an 11-game road trip with a four-game series at Miami, they made a couple of major roster moves. They sent the struggling Schwarber to Iowa and placed right fielder Jason Heyward on the 10-day disabled list with a left-hand injury. They brought up pitcher Dylan Floro and outfielder Mark Zagunis from Iowa.
Schwarber, who missed almost all of last year because of a serious knee injury only to return to help the Cubs win the World Series, was off to a slow start at the plate this season. His batting line is .171/.295/.378 with 12 home runs, 28 RBI, 36 walks and 75 strikeouts in 261 plate appearances.
Despite his postseason heroics, both in 2015 and last year, Schwarber has only 539 plate appearances for his big-league career, and he was finding it difficult this year to make adjustments at the plate despite hitting some mammoth home runs.
Cubs President Theo Epstein told WSCR 670-AM radio Thursday that the organization wants Schwarber to return to being a “hitter” and not just a “slugger.” In addition to the 12 home runs, Schwarber has 10 doubles among his 38 hits.
“The way this season has evolved, and none of us saw this coming, but when you look at him, these days he looks more like slugger than hitter,” Epstein told the Score. “Kyle’s a hitter first. You go back and look. He had over 600 plate appearances in the minor leagues. He’s a career .333 hitter in the minor leagues. This is not just some all-or-nothing slugger. He’s a hitter first who has power.
“Obviously a lot of things have happened this year. It’s gotten away from him. Now it’s sort of just a power game. We have zero doubt that he’s going down, this will be good for him and he’ll rediscover who he is.”
Such a move is not unprecedented, even recently. The St. Louis Cardinals earlier this season sent Randal Grichuk — whom they believe to be a budding star — to Class A ball to work on his swing. Grichuk since has been promoted to Class AAA Memphis.
Epstein told the radio station the demotion for Schwarber would benefit him physically and mentally.
“You don’t want a guy to get so buried and so down that he’s just purely in survival mode for such a long period of time and maybe starts to do more harm than good,” he told the Score. “We saw this exercise through two lenses: what’s best for the team and what’s best for Kyle.
“When we sat down and talked to Kyle after the game (Wednesday) night, I told him, ‘This decision is an investment in you. It’s not turning our back on you. It’s an investment in you because we want you back, we need you back, you’re going to be right in the middle of everything good that happens here for a long, long time. You’ve just got to find yourself again and find the hitter.’ He’s going to. I really liked the look in his eye, how determined he is to take a breath, go down and rediscover himself and come back up here and make some people pay for the way the season’s gone so far.”
Schwarber was the Cubs’ first-round draft choice (fourth pick overall) out of Indiana University in 2014. He came up to the Cubs in 2015 after beginning the season at Class AA Tennessee.
In the 2015 postseason for the Cubs, he homered in the wild-card-game victory at Pittsburgh. In the National League division series victory over the Cardinals, he was 5-for-10 with 2 home runs, 1 that landed on the right-field videoboard at Wrigley Field. Against the Mets in the NL championship series, Schwarber went 2-for-14, with both hits being home runs.
He played in only two regular-season games last year after tearing up his left-knee in an outfield collision at Arizona. Schwarber worked all summer to rehab the injury, and he surprised all observers by coming back to play five games in the World Series against Cleveland, going 7-for-17 (. 412) with a double and 2 RBI.
Expectations were high for Schwarber this season, so much so that manager Joe Maddon made him the team’s leadoff hitter. That lasted 36 games, as Schwarber batted .185.
Epstein told the Score he was not sure if batting leadoff contributed to Schwarber’s rough start.
“I tend not to think so, but I certainly don’t have it all figured out,” he said. “It’s certainly a possibility. It’s something Joe could experiment with and find the right spot for him. I tend to think it’s not directly tied to where he was hitting in the order, but I’m not going to sit here and say I had it figured out or anyone else with the Cubs does because we certainly do not. We have to be open to all different considerations, but my instinct is not necessarily. I have some other theories on how this evolved. Certainly can’t rule anything out.”
As far as the other moves, Heyward scraped the palm of his left hand going for a flyball last Sunday in Pittsburgh. He did not play in this week’s three-game series against the Padres at Wrigley Field, and the hand was bandaged.
Floro was up with the Cubs earlier this season. Zagunis, 24, was a third-round draft pick in 2014. At Iowa, he has a line of .249/.399/.474 with 11 homers and 35 RBI. He will be looking to make his major-league debut.
Here are Kyle Schwarber’s stats with the Cubs in 2017:
Plate appearances: 261
Home runs: 12