Leaner Schwarber makes appearance at Day 2

Cubs slugger speaks with Epstein, Hoyer at Winter Meetings about batting leadoff

December 13th, 2017

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Could lead off again for the Cubs? It's not out of the question.

A svelte Schwarber drove from his home in Tampa to chat with Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer for about half an hour on Tuesday. Schwarber didn't request the meeting to dismiss rumors which have linked him to some American League teams.

"He knows how we feel about him," Hoyer said. "I think he's proud of himself, and he should be. I think he wanted to come here and talk to us. It was great."

And possibly show off how much weight he's lost? When asked, Schwarber said he didn't know. He's not done.

"'Best shape of his life' becomes a cliche or joke, but he actually is," Hoyer said of Schwarber. "He looks awesome. Kyle is a guy who, when you talk to him, he motivates you. It's hard to not want to play right now after listening to him. I think he didn't feel great about his season, he probably didn't feel great with how he felt all year. It's so obvious when you look at him what great shape he's in. I love that he drove over here in some ways to show it off. I don't blame him -- I probably would, too."

The Cubs rotated 11 different players in the leadoff spot last season, including Schwarber, who struggled there, batting .190 in 37 games. He was sent to the Minor Leagues, but finished the season with a .211 average, 30 homers and 59 RBIs for the Cubs.

"There's zero way to prove why he struggled last year," Hoyer said. "It could've been hitting leadoff, it could've been something that happened if he hit fifth. I think it will come down to talking to him, Joe [Maddon] and Kyle having an honest conversation, like, 'Would this bother you? Be honest, don't tell me what I want to hear.' [Schwarber] would know better how much it affected him. He might say, 'It didn't affect me at all, I just didn't hit well.'"

Maddon said he wanted to wait and see a complete roster before he began to scribble possible lineup combinations, but he didn't dismiss the idea.

"Schwarber absolutely could lead off if he's hitting like Schwarber and accepting his walks, and he's got his .250-plus batting average," Maddon said. "It only failed in the sense that Kyle had a tough time last year."

Worth noting

has started working with new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis at the team's facility in Mesa, Ariz.

"I could see that being an easy dialogue," Maddon said of the two. "I could see Jason warming up to [Davis] relatively quickly and easily, and I could see Chili being able to knock down any barriers in regard to what he wants to get across. I think it's gotten off to a pretty good start from what I understand."

After batting .230 in his first season with the Cubs in 2016, Heyward spent most of last offseason at the team's complex in Mesa working with hitting coaches John Mallee and Eric Hinske. This past season, Heyward batted .259 but also missed time because of a hand injury.

Maddon doesn't expect dramatic changes in Heyward's approach.

"It'll be something subtle, and it's just a matter of them clicking on the right thought and Jason being able to take it into a game," Maddon said.

• Maddon has had a busy offseason, hosting events for his foundation, traveling to Los Angeles to meet with Shohei Ohtani and attending an event in Washington with Cal Ripken Jr. The Cubs manager hasn't had time to come up with a message for 2018. He heads to his hometown of Hazleton, Pa., on Wednesday for another Thanksmas event.

"Starting on Monday, we'll be up there, away from everything, and I'm hoping my inspiration occurs at that point," Maddon said.