CHICAGO -- The plan for Chicago Cubs rookie Kyle Schwarber is simple: Get his feet wet in the majors for five days as the designated hitter in two American League parks then go to Triple-A Iowa to continue his development as a catcher -- something the team is committed to now more than ever.
"We knew he would be making a transition from Double-A to Triple-A around this time," Cubs President Theo Epstein said before the Cubs played the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night. "This made sense, to get five straight games in an American League ballpark. This is a perfect pit stop for him on the way to Triple-A."
Schwarber made his debut Tuesday, entering as a defensive replacement in the top of the ninth inning. He struck out on three pitches in the bottom of the ninth in his first at-bat.
Why does Schwarber get a taste of the big leagues straight from Double-A when no other prospect has made that jump under Epstein -- including Kris Bryant? It's his position. The Cubs believe a little time in the majors might help his development behind the plate.
"He'll really benefit from seeing what goes into being a major league catcher, seeing how much preparation there is, how to work with the scouting reports," Epstein said, "all that pregame preparation. I think he'll benefit in that way.”
Some fans have openly wondered why David Ross was signed by the Cubs. The next 5-6 days is one reason.
"He's a stud," Ross said. "He's here for a reason. He belongs here ... Catching demands a little more knowledge or studying. Schwarber is definitely capable of doing that."
After seeing Ross and Schwarber hanging out in the outfield during batting practice and then sit next to each other on the bench during Tuesday’s game, you get the feeling that if major leaguers had roommates on the road these two would be asking for double beds this week in Cleveland and Minnesota.
Schwarber should be a sponge to the veteran while the Cubs are killing a bunch of birds with one stone this week. Manager Joe Maddon called it "the ability to get some firsts out of the way." He admitted the next time Schwarber comes up the situation could be "hotter" -- as in a pennant race.
For several weeks the front office internally discussed the option of using Schwarber as a designated hitter and found the right opening. There is some irony, as being a catcher got Schwarber to the majors quickly but it's also the reason why he'll be sent back to the minors, no matter how well he hits. At Triple-A Iowa Schwarber will be an "injury away," according to Epstein. They think he's developed behind the plate and simply needs more experience.
"We're more convinced than ever he's going to catch for a long time in the big leagues," Epstein said.
The Cubs think Schwarber's bat is nearly ready, as he hit .320 with a .438 on-base percentage at Double-A. After he plays a certain amount of games behind the plate at Iowa the team might switch their thinking for the rest of this season. Come August or September -- if his bat can help them to the playoffs -- you could see Schwarber in the outfield or at least on the bench for the Cubs. They want to develop him more in the minors behind the plate but not wear him down. The plan makes sense.
"He needs to develop as a catcher," Epstein said. "We may reach a point this year, whether it's in September or earlier than that, where he's caught enough for the year and then we can mix in some different responsibilities, and then maybe he's a factor for September up here."
The Cubs are confident their plan for this week won't backfire, as Schwarber has been "prepped" accordingly. Maddon acknowledged the 2014 first-round pick's different personality as compared to other rookies such as Bryant and Addison Russell. Schwarber has the attributes of a leader.
"I think Schwarber wears his heart on his sleeve a little bit more," Maddon said. "He's more demonstrative in his personality, where Kris is a little more reserved."
As for Schwarber, he says he was able to ignore the talk of a possible promotion and is more than happy to be in the big leagues -- even if it's just for a few days.
"I'm going to stick with my approach and see what happens," he said of his at-bats. "It's the same game we've been playing for how many years?"
His approach is a patient one, which he says he won't alter knowing he's going back to the minors in less than a week. And he's sure of what he wants to do in the big leagues even if it takes him a little longer to get there on a permanent basis. He wants to be a catcher.
"If that progress keeps going I'll be very happy with what I can do defensively," Schwarber said.
So for now the Cubs will get a peek at his potential and the potential they have with a group of young players all on the field at the same time, though the Cubs might not want Schwarber behind the plate in the big leagues for more than one inning just yet. Designated hitter will have to do.
"I think he's exceeded our expectations but there's a long way to go," Epstein said.