Cubs catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber will miss the season after being diagnosed with full tears to the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments of his left knee, the club has informed reporters including Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com (Twitter link). Schwarber suffered the injury in an outfield collision last night.
Schwarber was initially diagnosed with only a significant ankle sprain, with x-rays negative for fractures. But the force of the impact with center fielder Dexter Fowler obviously caused much more significant damage to his knee. Now, his ACL and LCL will require surgery and extensive rehab.
Needless to say, it’s a major blow for the high-powered Cubs offense and the rising 23-year-old star. Schwarber was expected to see significant action in the outfield this season, sharing time with right-handed hitting youngster Jorge Soler after the club added Jason Heyward and re-signed Fowler over the winter. He was also set to see limited time behind the plate — his natural position — behind top two options Miguel Montero and David Ross, in hopes that he’d be eased into a more regular catching role in the future.
While losing Schwarber’s high-quality bat is a big loss, Chicago is better positioned to absorb the blow than the Diamondbacks were when they saw A.J. Pollock go down. Soler, Kris Bryant, Matt Szczur, and perhaps Javier Baez provide rather promising options, though they all swing from the right side. The club dealt away left-handed-hitting outfielder/infielder Chris Coghlan in conjunction with the re-acquisition of Fowler, taking away their top platoon option against right-handed pitching.
The biggest impact, in some ways, could be down the line. Schwarber has shown the athleticism to turn into a big league catcher, but is said to need to add polish to that element of his game. Of course, he’s also new to the outfield. Losing the chance to continue to hone his skills on defense — and to see more left-handed MLB pitching, which posed a challenge last year — could impact his development. That’s all before considering the possible long-term impact of what is unquestionably a significant knee injury.
With Schwarber unable to resume his progress as a backstop, top prospect Willson Contreras becomes an even more important asset. His own development has been a significant sub-plot for a Cubs organization that is full of major storylines. Montero is nearing 33 years of age and will be a free agent after 2017, while Ross is set to retire after the season. The door is now open next year — if not sooner — for the 23-year-old Contreras, who will open at Triple-A after a big 2015 in his first run at the Double-A level.