The Cubs threw a curve but still addressed two needs Thursday night when they selected left-handed hitting catcher Kyle Schwarber of Indiana with the fourth overall pick in the amateur draft.
Schwarber, 21, whom Baseball America listed as the 17th top prospect, was ranked second on the Cubs’ list, according to Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ vice president of scouting and player development.
“It has been an awesome last couple days,” Schwarber said in a conference call at a golf course in his hometown of Middletown, Ohio.
The Cubs have a shortage of top catching prospects and top left-handed hitters. McLeod raved about Schwarber’s hitting skills.
“We felt Kyle was the best hitter, hands down, in this year’s draft,” McLeod said of the 6-foot, 240-pound Schwarber, who batted .358 with 14 home runs and 48 RBIs this spring.
McLeod expects Schwarber, who batted .341 with 40 home runs and 149 RBIs in three seasons, to sign soon. Schwarber likely will sign for much less than the assigned value of roughly $4.62 million, which would enable them to sign other players for more money than their recommended slot.
The Cubs have a chance to save even more money as they selected Maryland senior pitcher Jake Stinnett with their second-round pick. The 22-year-old right-hander has had his fastball clocked as high as 97 mph. He has a 7-6 record and 2.65 ERA with 130 strikeouts in 112 innings entering this weekend’s NCAA super regional at Virginia. He has pitched with a pin in his elbow stemming from an accident as a youth.
McLeod said Schwarber, who was recruited by a few Big Ten Conference football programs as a linebacker, has the talent and makeup to stay at catcher, where he threw out 37 percent of attempted base-stealers this season
“He has the will to do it,” McLeod said. “We’ll let that play out. We feel he’s an underrated athlete who certainly could move to an outfield corner position. His bat is why we drafted him.”
Said Schwarber: “I have a passion for catching, but whatever the Cubs want me to do is what I’ll do.”
Schwarber has become familiar with the Cubs over the last year. He took batting practice during his first visit to Wrigley Field last summer as a member of Team USA. Schwarber and his Indiana teammates took batting practice at Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz., in February before participating in a tournament in Surprise.
During that visit, Cubs President Theo Epstein and McLeod spoke with Schwarber for more than 30 minutes.
After talking to coaches from Indiana and Team USA, as well as Team USA players, the Cubs became more convinced to select Schwarber after the Astros selected left-hander Brady Aiken of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego with the first overall pick.
McLeod described Schwarber as an “advanced hitter” but stopped short of drawing comparisons to Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ first pick in the 2013 draft who is batting .348 with 19 home runs and 51 RBIs at Double-A Tennessee.
“We need to step back and look at reality,” McLeod said.
But he couldn’t stop gushing about the hitting talents of Schwarber.
“With his profile and how he handles himself as a hitter, he can move very quickly,” McLeod said.
Schwarber recalled playing against Bryant, then a sophomore at the University of San Diego, two seasons ago.
“Yeah, he could hit,” Schwarber said of Bryant, who went 1-for-3 with an RBI double to lead San Diego to a 9-3 victory.