MESA, AZ — Last time you saw Kyle Schwarber, you probably saw him hitting home runs out of Wrigley Field or on to the top of scoreboards in the postseason.
Now it is spring training, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop doing what he was doing, as he was hitting baseballs over the grass berm and onto the concourse during batting practice at Sloan Park before Thursday’s matchup with the Diamondbacks.
The slugger is entering his first full season as a Major Leaguer, and by his display in batting practice, seems ready to go, but it was where he started that got him prepped for where he is now.
Schwarber, 23, is a native of Middletown, Ohio and played his college baseball at Indiana University in Bloomington before making his way to where he is today.
“There were three baseball teams that offered me, it was Indiana, Miami of Ohio and Cincinnati,” Schwarber said. “Indiana just seemed like the best fit for me.”
During his career in Bloomington playing for the Hoosiers, Schwarber experienced tremendous success. He was a freshman All-American, hitting .300/.390/.513 with eight home runs and 47 RBIs. That’s pretty good for a freshman, but in his sophomore year he hit .366/.456/.647 with 18 home runs and 54 RBI in 61 games before his junior season when he hit .348/.456/.643 with 13 home runs along with being a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award. He and Indiana also made it to the College World Series.
When you win and are as successful as Schwarber has been, you tend to have fond memories of times like his seasons in Bloomington.
“We had such a great group of people there from the coaches all the way down to the players,” Schwarber said. “The players, we were like brothers and that’s what we needed to be successful. That’s why when I was there, I thought we had three pretty successful years.”
These days, not every player goes to college to play baseball, but it was “definitely beneficial” for him. You can put Schwarber on the list of good college players to have success in the Major Leagues, at least in his brief career so far.
“It helped me mature,” Schwarber said. “I got out by myself, but also, there was structure still; you have people looking after you. When you go to college, you have to grow up quick, because if you don’t, you can get in trouble real easy.”
Whether that maturity came on the field or off the field doesn’t really matter, but when he was drafted by the Cubs, he couldn’t wait to get going.
“Just thinking through that process again, that was the team I really wanted to go to,” Schwarber said. “Looking at the young talent they had, and team they had already in the big leagues, and then going through the culture change and talking to Theo [Epstein] and talking to Jason McLeod, with pre-draft stuff, they were really selling me on the culture stuff and that was great and just really lucky to be picked by them.”
It may have been luck for Schwarber, but for the Cubs, they got probably the best pure hitter available in the 2014 draft. The aforementioned college numbers speak for themselves and he brought much of that to the pro game and that helped him move rapidly through the Minors.
Was it more of his play or the system in place that helped?
“It was a lot of both,” Schwarber said. “Luckily I was doing my job there [minors]; being a good team guy, helping teams win, and I was lucky to run across a lot of good teams down there too. There are a lot of good people in the organization, a lot of good coaching staffs, so they definitely helped me out a lot.”
Schwarber has really let his play do the talking in his journey to the big leagues and when you are putting up the numbers he is, you can’t blame him. He played in the 2015 Futures Game at last summer’s All Star Game, but before that, was called up to the Majors and played, which you don’t really see all that often.
The atmosphere was also very welcoming in a Cubs clubhouse that is eager to end that World Series drought as soon as possible.
“When I did get that call to the big leagues the clubhouse was great to me,” Schwarber said. I thought it was going to be ‘rookie this, rookie that, you’re going to do this for me, you’re going to do that.’ It was you’re here to win, lets go.”
And win they did. They didn’t get to the World Series last season as the Mets ended their run in the NLCS, but this team is ready to compete in 2016, and that could have something to do with the man that puts pen to paper on the lineup card, manager Joe Maddon.
“He keeps us so loose, he’s so personable,” Schwarber said of Maddon. “He won’t treat you differently if you go 0-for-10 or 10-for-10. Things like that, that’s a big help for us and he’s always having these fun activities for us, it’s great.”
About that lineup however, Schwarber comes into 2016 with some competition to get in the starting nine. One day he could be behind the dish, and the next he could be in left field where he played a lot last season, but to him, it doesn’t really matter.
“Whatever they want me to do, I’m going to do,” Schwarber said. “Whenever my name is on the lineup card, I’m going to be the best team player I can be and try to help the team win, and that’s my mindset.”
If his mindset is hitting a lot of home runs, I think Cubs fans will be quite happy. That mindset is emulated by a rival however who Schwarber takes after a little bit.
“There’s a lot of players I grew up watching, and once I started to understand baseball more into college and out of high school, I really watched Joey Votto,” Schwarber said. “The way he hit, his approach and things like that, not the type of player, just the way he would take his at-bats at the plate. He took it very seriously and he wanted to get his pitch and that is what I pride myself on, getting my pitch, being patient, but also being aggressive.”
Well, if those three things fall into place for Schwarber this year on a consistent basis, he could be in for a big season which could mean big things for the Cubs.
He is ready to break out and he has shown that he is capable, but the biggest thing about it is being comfortable. When you are welcomed into the clubhouse and have a manger and an organization that are welcoming, it is easy to be comfortable, and it seems that Schwarber feels that way in the friendly confines on the North Side of Chicago.
As for his March Madness bracket, his pick is probably one that won’t surprise many.
“They are the only college team I watched this year, so I got them [Indiana] going all the way.”