Kyle Schwarber committed to catching

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs are all-in for 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber continuing his career behind the plate. At the very least, they're going to give it their best shot.

"Ultimately, for us, that's where the greatest impact lies," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday. "When you can put that left-handed bat behind the plate, that's something we have to try."

Schwarber was the No. 4 overall pick this past June, and he quickly acclimated to the professional ranks, as he produced a composite .344 batting average to go with 18 home runs and 53 RBIs at three different levels of the minor leagues. Even so, the Cubs were unsure if they would leave the former Indiana Hoosier at one of the tougher positions to master. His bat is nearly major-league-ready, so it might take some time for his defense to catch up.

The easier route would be to have him play left field. He played both catcher and outfield this summer, but he wants to continue his career behind the plate.

"It's my job to prove that I can," Schwarber said. "I have a passion for catching. I feel like if I can do that, I can help out in a lot of different situations. I'll do whatever they want me to do."

Schwarber and his family were guests on the field during batting practice before the Cubs played the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, and the stocky lefty took some swings with his future teammates.

"It was fun," he said afterward. "Happy to be out there [and] getting to know the guys."

The luxury of a dangerous, left-hitting catcher would be a huge asset for the Cubs. It would leave the outfield open for others while putting a big bat behind the plate. Not many teams have that, so the benefit of trying outweighs the downside of any delay to the start of Schwarber's major-league career. Epstein said Schwarber proved it was worth a shot with his improvement behind the plate throughout the summer.

"He probably had more catching instruction as a pro than he had in a long time," Epstein said. "This will be a catching crash course for him in [instructional league]. [We] think he'll respond to it well."

Instead of going to the more competitive Arizona Fall League, Schwarber will report to the instructional league for hands-on training. It'll be a controlled environment in which he'll learn the craft of catching, from calling a game to blocking balls in the dirt.

There were signs of progress throughout the summer.

"Once you show that, then it's in there," Epstein said. "It didn't necessarily come out all the time, but once you show that physical ability, it means if you work hard and get the right coaching and improve, it's in there. And it can come out."

Said Schwarber: "I feel like I made tremendous strides between college and this offseason."

Two things Epstein has been certain of since the December is Schwarber's bat and makeup. In some ways, he has been more sure of Schwarber in the clubhouse than on the field.

"Players are drawn to him," Epstein said. "He has leadership qualities and a big personality. And a special bat. He sees the ball incredibly well."

Like any top pick in his situation, Schwarber is just taking it in. He took pictures on the field with his parents and roped line drives in batting practice. He'll give catching a real shot this fall, and then next year -- most likely at Double-A -- see where things fall.

"I know they have the best interests for me and everyone else," Schwarber said. "That's what I truly believe. Whenever they tell me to come on up, I'll be more than ready. They knew what the talent was, but they believed in me as a person."