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Schwarber working tirelessly on outfield defense

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MESA, Ariz. -- How much does Kyle Schwarber want to be a better outfielder? On Wednesday, he poked his head into Cubs manager Joe Maddon's office to ask for an assessment of his defensive skills.

"He wanted to know my evaluation," Maddon said. "I said, 'Listen, you haven't really been challenged.' I told him what I've been watching, and I've watched the drills and I said, 'This is what I've been watching with the drills.' I want him to be aware of a couple things with his feet.

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MESA, Ariz. -- How much does Kyle Schwarber want to be a better outfielder? On Wednesday, he poked his head into Cubs manager Joe Maddon's office to ask for an assessment of his defensive skills.

"He wanted to know my evaluation," Maddon said. "I said, 'Listen, you haven't really been challenged.' I told him what I've been watching, and I've watched the drills and I said, 'This is what I've been watching with the drills.' I want him to be aware of a couple things with his feet.

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"I talked to him about some technique, but primarily range is about the first step," Maddon said. "If you're an average human being, that first step matters a lot. That's what I was talking to him about."

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And where was Schwarber later on Wednesday? He was working on his footwork with Cubs coach Will Venable, who was lobbing neon green tennis balls to him, using a racket. Schwarber caught the balls with his left hand, and flipped them back. He'd move back, catch a few more, then move back and start the drill again. It's something he started in the offseason in Florida and wanted to continue in Spring Training.

"I like the drill," Venable said. "It's something fun. It's tough in camp. These guys have to get something fresh and new -- you don't want to bore these guys. That was all Kyle. I love the drill."

It's all part of Schwarber's efforts to be the best he can be. He was told he couldn't catch, and the only thing that stopped him was a horrific knee injury early in 2016, when he tore two ligaments. He's considered the emergency catcher now but wants to be a full-time outfielder. The Cubs have plenty of options with Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr., although the latter two will likely share center field.

This spring has gone well for Schwarber, who has shed the cumbersome knee brace he had to wear last season.

Video: CHC@CLE: Schwarber launches a solo homer to center

"Everything's feeling good," Schwarber said Wednesday before hitting his first spring homer in the Cubs' 11-6 win over the Indians. "The bats are coming along. I like the way it's progressing, I'm recognizing pitches well. Everything else, it's feeling good on the bases and in the outfield, too, everything feels good out there."

Venable has been impressed.

"He's just a guy who really wants to be really, really good," Venable said. "I think his expectations of himself are really high, in the outfield included. He does the work to back it up. It's not just a narrative that sounds good."

There's only one problem with Schwarber. If possible, he'd be in the batting cages or on the fields or in the weight room 24/7.

"The challenge with him is to manage his work load," Venable said. "If we let him, he'd be out here for hours and hours and running himself into the ground, because that's how he is. It's been unbelievable working with him. The challenge is to make sure he doesn't work too much.

"From an outfielder's perspective, he wants to be really good out there," Venable said. "When he doesn't get the job done, he takes it personally. It's been awesome [to be with him]."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Kyle Schwarber