The Chicago Cubs have committed to Kyle Schwarber leading off when they begin to defend their title next month. He’s not the most conventional hitter to bat first in the lineup, but his keen eye at the plate gives him at least one good quality to start the game on offense. It is a different role, no matter what a hitter says about trying to keep the same approach. So how is Schwarber taking to it about halfway through spring games?
Jason Heyward has led off in a few spring games and he admitted it’s different. If you’re the home team, you have no time to prepare as you come in from playing the field, plus you’re the first person to see the starting pitcher. Are you seeing the differences even in the spring?
Kyle Schwarber: There is definitely a little getting used to there. But as me going to the plate I’m going to do my thing. You are rushing in that first inning to get your stuff on and get ready. But that’s true of anyone leading off an inning. It is a little different in that first inning.
Does that mean leading off in a road game might be easier? I know it’s splitting hairs but it sounds like you’ll have more time.
KS: I would say that’s true. You’re not rushing. You know you’re going to be that first hitter, so you can create some more time for you to get mentally prepared. There’s just one thing to worry about from the time pregame warm-up begins.
And of course, you’re the guinea pig for the rest of the lineup. Do you view getting that pitcher to show you something a role just like getting on base is?
KS: That’s kind of that job of the leadoff hitter. Show what this guy’s got. If you can make him break out a couple pitches that he didn’t want to bring out, it can be helpful. It can give guys an early look on video or you can just go back and tell the guys what he’s got.
Does this role suit you simply because you have a good eye at the plate? Maybe Joe Maddon landed on this job for you after seeing your at-bats in the World Series, especially against Andrew Miller. You seemingly never left the zone for a ball.
KS: I view myself or call myself as "selective aggressive." I mean, I’m selective, but when I get my pitch I’m going to swing. It’s not like it’s in my head to take, take, take. I want to be ready to hit, but if it’s not the pitch I want then I’ll take it. There will be some times where I take a pitch, but most of the time it’s being selectively aggressive -- I’ll find that balance.
So where are you with your progression about halfway through March?
KS: We still have [several] weeks, but I feel like I’m getting better and better every time I step up to the plate. My eyes are getting there. I’m working on deep counts and stuff like that. I think it’s going to come. Hopefully that last week of spring it feels like it’s all coming together.