Kyle Schwarber's Promotion Will Offer Tease of Lethal Cubs Lineup to Come

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJune 16, 2015

USA Today

The following is not a recording: The Chicago Cubs are calling up an elite hitting prospect.

That's been a hobby of theirs in 2015, as they tabbed Kris Bryant in late April and Addison Russell shortly after him. Now they're calling on Kyle Schwarber. And once he arrives, the Cubs will be offering a glimpse of something both wondrous and powerful: their future lineup.

But first things first.

The news that Schwarber, last year's No. 4 overall pick and a consensus top-100 prospect coming into 2015, is coming to The Show was leaked by Double-A Tennessee teammate Daniel Vogelbach and confirmed by Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com:

Jesse Rogers @ESPNChiCubs

Source confirms @kschwarb12 will be with the Cubs for 6 days to DH, etc. Then to Triple-A.

Schwarber, a 22-year-old catching prospect out of Indiana University, has definitely earned his call-up.

After mashing with a .344 average and a 1.061 OPS in his first taste of pro ball last year, the lefty-swinging slugger entered Monday hitting .318 with a 1.017 OPS and 13 home runs against Double-A competition. It's no wonder he moved up to No. 15 on ESPN Insider Keith Law's updated top 50 prospects.

As easy as it is to get excited about Schwarber's promotion, however, there's no ignoring the catch: This is only temporary.

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You have to give the Cubs credit for thinking to use Schwarber as a designated hitter for a five-game American League road swing through Cleveland and Minnesota. But since he obviously doesn't have a future at DH with the Cubs, you also have to give them credit for sticking to their plan for his development. 

As Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein put it to Rogers:

Kyle has had a tremendous developmental year so far behind the plate, with the bat and as a leader. His next stop is to continue his development as a catcher at Triple-A.

First, however, he is going to join the major league team for six days to contribute as a designated hitter, as a bat off the bench and as a third catcher. He will also use the time in the big leagues to experience firsthand all that goes into being a major league catcher. Regardless of how this week goes, Kyle will head to Triple-A after Sunday's game.

If the question is whether Schwarber has the defensive goods to stick at catcher, that's where you'll run into mixed reviews. The Cubs are confident that he can develop into an everyday catcher, but the consensus appears to be that he's ticketed for a corner-outfield gig.

But for now, that's neither here nor there. What's going to be on display in the coming days is Schwarber's bat, and there's not much to be skeptical about where that's concerned.

You can tell just by looking at Schwarber's numbers that his bat must be the real deal, and no scouting report you look at is going to tell you those are a mirage. Coming into the year, MLB.com, Baseball America and ESPN.com all had Schwarber pegged as a hitter who will one day hit for high averages with around 30 home runs on an annual basis.

If you want a full breakdown of what makes Schwarber such a dangerous hitting prospect, you can check out a piece that yours truly published a couple of weeks ago. But if we were to condense it all down to CliffsNotes, we'd get:

  • He's solidly built at 6'0" and 235 pounds.
  • He has a strong lower half from which he can generate power.
  • He has excellent bat speed and a shorter stroke than many power-hitting prospects.
  • He has good pitch recognition and plate discipline.

That's the wordy depiction of Schwarber's talent. If you want the visual depiction, here's him hitting a particularly impressive dinger:

That looks an awful lot like a hitter who would be right at home in the Cubs lineup. And before long, we'll get to see such a thing in real life.

Predicting Joe Maddon's lineups is sort of like predicting who's going to die in any given Game of Thrones episode, but I'll give it a shot:

Projected Cubs Lineup with Kyle Schwarber
1Dexter FowlerSCF99
2Anthony RizzoL1B169
3Kris BryantR3B145
4Miguel MonteroLC130
5Starlin CastroRSS82
6Kyle SchwarberLDHNA
7Chris CoghlanLLF112
8Junior LakeRRF71
9Addison RussellR2B95
Bleacher Report

Note: The OPS+ figures above are current through play on Sunday, June 14.

We know what Schwarber could be capable of. And when placed in the context of a lineup like that, well, it looks like a darn good lineup.

If Schwarber proves to be an above-average hitter in the majors, he'll join Anthony Rizzo, Bryant, Miguel Montero and Chris Coghlan among those whom OPS+ (that's a version of OPS adjusted for parks and leagues) says the Cubs already have. And in Dexter Fowler and Russell, they have two others who are just about league-average hitters.

In so many words, the Cubs would find themselves with a lineup with few easy outs. That'll do nicely for the short term.

But the real joy of watching Schwarber in the majors in the coming days will be in imagining him in a different lineup. One even better, and not that far off from becoming a reality.

Nick Wass/Associated Press

The next time Schwarber finds himself in Chicago's lineup, odds are the presently injured Jorge Soler (ankle) will be there as well. When that happens, Chicago's lineup will contain a former elite prospect-turned-elite hitter in Rizzo, as well as a former elite prospect-turned-solid hitter in Starlin Castro.

In addition, it will contain a guy who entered the year as a consensus top-25 prospect in Soler and two guys who entered the year as consensus top-five prospects in Bryant and Russell.

If Schwarber's next foray into the lineup happens to come as an everyday left fielder, that'll be because Montero is blocking him from taking over at catcher. And if that happens, it'll be because Montero will have shown his bat still has the same kind of thunder it's had this year.

As such, Schwarber's full-time entry into Chicago's lineup could see him become one of seven impact hitters. In a pitching-friendly age, where every team is struggling to fill out its lineup with quality hitters, the Cubs would be the envy of the league.

And they wouldn't be done there.

MESA, AZ - MARCH 6: Kyle Schwarber #74 of the Chicago Cubs bats during the game against the Cincinnati Reds on March 6, 2015 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. The Reds defeated the Cubs 5-2. (Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)
Rich Pilling/Getty Images

Schwarber may be getting all the hype now, but the Cubs also have Albert Almora down on the farm. He was Chicago's No. 6 overall pick back in 2012 and is widely regarded as a future do-it-all center fielder. And with Fowler set for free agency after 2015, Almora's time could come very early in 2016. 

Count 'em all up and what the Cubs are looking at is the ultimate dream scenario: a lineup with an impact hitter at every position and coming soon.

Obviously, we're getting just a bit ahead of ourselves. Schwarber's going to be in the majors for less than a week, and a few things will have to fall in line for him to one day be a part of the dream lineups that we just went frolicking through Imaginationland with.

But in times like these, such digressions are hard to avoid. The Cubs have a blueprint for a powerhouse lineup that they're busy assembling, and Schwarber is about to be the latest rivet put in place.

And once that's done, it'll be that much easier to imagine what the finished product is going to look like.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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