In 157 plate appearances, Kyle Schwarber has posted a .406 wOBA. He’s a rookie. And a catcher (well, half the time). If he qualified for the leaderboard, that wOBA mark would easily rank highest among catchers, while sitting sixth in all of baseball. He has certainly enjoyed quite the tremendous start to his Major League career and the Cubs have an embarrassing amount of young talent.
We haven’t even finished the month of August yet and I’m certainly not looking toward 2016 yet. But apparently some are. And in an article I read recently, the author discussed his early picks for the first two rounds of next year’s drafts. Schwarber wasn’t included, but was discussed at the end as a notable omission.
The fact that he was even mentioned as part of a small group of omissions shocked me. That’s typically the case when we start mock drafting for the following year and you see a new name in the first couple of rounds. It takes a while to get used to seeing a new name, so the knee-jerk reaction is to feel that it’s ridiculous and the player is severely overvalued after a breakout or career year. Is it fair to feel that way about Schwarber or is he rightfully zooming up 2016 lists?
Obviously, this question cannot be truly answered until the season ends. It’s highly unlikely that Schwarber finishes the season with a wOBA over .400. He could slump badly in September and we could look back at this post and laugh. Or he could continue to hit well, though not as well as he has, and be in the conversation for the second catcher off the board.
Heading into the season, Schwarber was ranked as the fourth best Cubs prospect. He would have probably ranked first in many other systems. With 70 raw power and 65 future game power, he could be a dream fantasy asset for as long as he maintains his catcher eligibility. And with 11 homers already and a HR/FB rate in the high 20% range, he has certainly shown off that immense power potential.
His averaged batted ball distance has absolutely supported that huge HR/FB rate. It stands at 313 feet, which would rank second in baseball if he made the leaderboard. If that’s not enough, his Hard% would rank second as well. What else is he doing that is positive for home run production? Pulling the ball over 40% of the time and hitting flies more than 40% of the time as well.
So all of his advanced metrics suggest that what he has done thus far on the power front has been no fluke. But of course, since this has come in just about a quarter of a season’s worth of plate appearances, you have to assume some regression is in store. Depending on where he ends the season, my early thought is that I would project a high teen HR/FB rate next season. Assuming the same fly ball and strikeout rates next year, an 18% HR/FB rate would yield about 27 homers. That could very well turn out to be the highest projected home run total for any catcher.
Though Schwarber has posted inflated BABIP marks in the minors, which suggest a real skill, it’s hard to imagine his current .333 mark is sustainable. He hasn’t popped up all that much, but as an extreme fly ball hitter, it’s difficult to post BABIP marks well above the league average. A mediocre line drive rate and lots of pulled balls also add to the difficulty. But with all his homers counting in his batting average and excluded from BABIP, he might still manage to hit .260 or so and not be a real liability in the category.
So if he hits around .260 with 25-30 homers, 85 RBI, 80 runs and a handful of steals, he is essentially what I projected for Carlos Santana before this year, but slightly better. And adding to the similarity is that both walk a lot, which will boost their run totals. If Santana had been catcher eligible this season, he would have basically tied with Evan Gattis for my projected second most valuable catcher. But he wasn’t eligible and there haven’t been any other catcher breakouts to consider for the second slot next year. Gattis himself hasn’t taken advantage of the ballpark switch as much as I thought he might so he’s no longer a shoe-in for the two slot again.
All of this means that surprise, surprise, at this current moment, it isn’t so crazy to consider Schwarber as the second most valuable catcher next year. But is the second most valuable catcher really worth considering in the second round? Buster Posey is surely a second rounder, but the next catcher wasn’t off the board until the equivalent of the sixth round in NFBC drafts (assuming 12-team leagues, versus 15 for NFBC) this year. And when was the last time two catchers were drafted in the first two rounds? Schwarber is not going to be projected to earn nearly as much value as Posey, and if the latter goes somewhere in the second round, there’s absolutely no way that Schwarber should be a consideration there. With the risk of the so-called sophomore slump as pitchers adjust, it would be silly to take him so early and eliminate any real chance of profit, while taking on lots of risk.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.