Catcher Schwarber is Cubs' first pick in 2014
CHICAGO -- The Cubs felt that Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber was the best hitter available in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, and had him No. 2 on their wish list, behind high school left-hander Brady Aiken.
As soon as the Astros made Aiken the No. 1 pick overall on Thursday, the Cubs held their breath in hopes that Schwarber would be available at No. 4.
"He does everything that we like from an offensive standpoint in terms of controlling the strike zone, hitting for average, hitting for power," said Jason McLeod, the Cubs' senior vice president of scouting and player development. "His makeup is off the charts."
For the third straight year, the Cubs took a position player in the first round. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein chose outfielder Albert Almora in 2012 and third baseman Kris Bryant in 2013.
McLeod and Epstein met Schwarber in Arizona when Indiana played there during its spring trip this year, and talked to him for about 45 minutes.
One of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award, presented to the top Division I catcher in the country, Schwarber batted .358 with 14 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .659 slugging percentage in his junior year. In his final eight games for the Hoosiers, he batted .469 with four home runs, 12 RBIs and a .938 slugging percentage.
He was named the Big Ten tournament's Most Outstanding Player and selected to the all-tournament team at the NCAA Bloomington Regional.
A native of Middletown, Ohio, Schwarber is majoring in recreational sports management. In high school he was a four-time MVP and second-team All-Ohio linebacker.
"I was 8 or 10, and I was a catcher," Schwarber told the Cincinnati Enquirer, "and my grandmother said to me, 'I want you to be like Johnny Bench.' I said, 'Who's Johnny Bench?' She said, 'The best catcher to ever play the game.' She told me all about him."
Schwarber did meet Bench during a national tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y., and had a picture taken with the Hall of Famer.
Schwarber was not drafted out of high school.
"In football, the middle linebacker is the field captain, and it's the same for a catcher in baseball -- you're the field manager," he told the Enquirer. "You control the staff -- they trust you, and you trust them -- and you have to know where everyone's playing. You direct. It's a big responsibility. I love it."
Hoosiers baseball coach Tracy Smith's wife, Jamie, is from Middletown, and urged her husband to look at Schwarber.
"It's still amazing when I think back to recruiting him," Smith told the Indianapolis Star last year. "It wasn't like we had to beat out a bunch of people to get him. He was a relatively unknown player, thank goodness."
Whether Schwarber will be a catcher in the big leagues remains to be seen. He loves the role.
"Catching is what I really want to be doing," he said. "There's no other position I want to play. I like catching because it's down and dirty and gritty. It's an awesome position."
McLeod said that Schwarber has the mentality and makeup to be a big league catcher.
"He's got the will to do it," McLeod said. "We'll let that play out. We feel he's a really good, underrated athlete who could move to an outfield position in the corner. His bat is really why we drafted him. We think it's an impact bat from the left side, which we lack."
In 2013, Schwarber was selected the best catcher in the country by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. He actually became a catcher because of his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, he said he couldn't focus at any other position.
"I was the kid who was all over the place, left and right," he said.
The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com pregame show begins at 11:30 a.m. CT, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at noon CT.
The Cubs do lack pitching in the organization, but in the past two years have added arms in the later rounds. That's the same approach they'll take this year, according to McLeod.
"When you're picking that high in the Draft, you have a chance to get a talented, impactful player, and that's what we're going to do, and that was no different this year," McLeod said. "Kyle was No. 2 on our list. We're very excited to bring him into the organization and select him. I think you'll see as the Draft plays out, we'll try to hit pitchers heavy."
The Cubs have been assigned a pool of $8,352,200, which ranks sixth in the Majors. The value assigned to the Cubs' first-round pick is $4,621,200. However, McLeod said they expect to be able to sign Schwarber quickly and have some financial flexibility to use in the later rounds.
Area scout Stan Zielinski contacted Schwarber a few days ago to let him know that the team was interested. Schwarber had talked baseball with Epstein during their earlier meeting in Mesa.
"It was a great conversation," Schwarber said.
The two talked again on Thursday after the selection was made.
"I'm really embracing the moment, and that's what Theo told me: 'Just embrace this moment, take your time, and when the time's right, we'll call and take a day to sit down and talk about things,'" Schwarber said.
Earlier Thursday, Schwarber played at Weatherwax Golf Course in his hometown and had lots of family and friends around him as he watched the Draft, including some of his Little League buddies.
"It was an awesome turnout," he said.
Schwarber knows a little about Wrigley Field, having taken batting practice there while prepping with USA's Collegiate National Team.
"That's the first time I've ever been at Wrigley," Schwarber said of the workout. "I fell in love with the place right away. The scenery and the history of it all -- it's awesome."
He did grow up a Reds fan -- Middleton is about 20 minutes from Cincinnati -- but he'll root for the Cubs now. He also is aware that the team is in rebuilding mode, and such players as himself, Bryant and Almora are key. In addition, he and Bryant faced off during his freshman year at Indiana. What did he think of the Cubs' 2013 No. 1 pick?
"Yeah, he could hit," Schwarber said.
Former big leaguers Ted Lilly and Darnell McDonald, who recently joined the front office as special assistants, were both in the Cubs' war room at Wrigley Field on Thursday.