Kyle Schwarber Needs to Be on Your Fantasy Baseball Team

After struggling last season, Schwarber is looking mighty good in spring training. Here's why it's for real.

It wasn't too long ago most people in baseball believed Kyle Schwarber was going to be the next great young hitter in the game. A top prospect throughout his romp through the minor leagues, Schwarber burst onto the scene for the Chicago Cubs in 2015 and in 69 games, he had a .355 on-base percentage and slugged 16 home runs with 43 RBIs and 52 runs scored in only 273 plate appearances.

Schwarber had a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 131, a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .364 and an fWAR of 1.8 in the regular season, and then he proceeded to slug another 5 bombs during the Cubs' 2015 playoff run. One of the scariest young hitters in baseball had announced his arrival with authority.

But an unfortunate injury in the spring of 2016 essentially wiped out that campaign, although (amazingly) he did come back in time for the 2016 World Series and hit .412 in five Fall Classic contests as the Cubs won the title. However, that postseason success did not carry into the 2017 season as he hit .211/.315/.467 in 486 plate appearances with a wRC+ of 102 and a wOBA of .333, getting sent down to Triple-A at one points. Sure, he did hit 30 homers, but Schwarber struggled mightily against left-handed pitching (a .171 average in 98 plate appearances) and was essentially a boom-or-bust option even against righties.

That is a long way from the player it appeared Schwarber was going to be, and his struggles last season are why fantasy owners are selecting him in the 14th round of 12-team drafts right now.

But 2018 is a different season, and Schwarber looks like a completely different person (no really, he does). Here's why you should be targeting him at least a round or two earlier in your upcoming drafts, or for those of you in dynasty formats, why you should be working out a buy-low preseason trade for left-handed masher.

New Physique

Schwarber went into last year at 235 pounds, not the usual size of an effective defensive outfielder, and that was one of the big reasons his playing time was limited. This off-season, he lost 20 pounds in an effort to make himself more athletic and agile. The difference is striking.

Being able to play defense more effectively should mean fewer days off for Schwarber, which means more availability for your fantasy lineups and more opportunities to rack up counting stats. The likelihood that Schwarber will play more in 2017 should improve his overall value, although he could still be out of the lineup against some lefties.

Of course, the worry has been that the weight loss could negatively impact his hitting. Will he lose his power?

Monster Spring

Apparently not.

While spring numbers generally shouldn't be taken as a sure sign that a player is going to have a good regular season, Schwarber's pedigree and the body transformation lead me to believe this spring is for real. In 16 games and 39 at-bats this spring, Schwarber is hitting .385/.489/.744 with an OPS of 1.233. He's blasted three dingers, three doubles and a triple already, and has eight walks and 13 strikeouts so far this spring.

Schwarber's big bugaboo during his career has been the strikeout, with a strikeout rate last season of 30.9% that was the seventh-highest in baseball among players with at least 450 plate appearances. Those whiffs will likely still be there, although they'll go down some if the lefty slugger can improve against southpaws.

So far this spring, he's done that. Granted, it's a minuscule sample size, but Schwarber has shown improvement in lefty-lefty matchups, going 5 for 13 in the split with a homer, three walks and just two strikeouts this spring. That's not a guarantee that he'll be more effective against left-handed pitching in the regular season, but it certainly is a good sign.

Some Steals?

Schwarber's weight has always held him back when it came to the aspects of the game revolving around speed. But with 20 fewer pounds on his frame, we've seen Schwarber running more this spring than he ever has.

He has already stolen three bases, one fewer than the four he has collected in 200 career MLB games. In this video, Schwarber tries to score from second base on a wild pitch and almost makes it, giving a clear indication that he's going to be a far more athletic player in 2018.

When You Should Take Him

The later you go into drafts, the more chances you should be willing to take, and according to his average draft position -- per the data from National Fantasy Baseball Championship -- he's currently the 44th outfielder being selected, going in the 14th round behind players like Jay Bruce, Adam Jones, Ian Happ and Ender Inciarte.

Our projections are cautious about Schwarber's ability to hit for average (.230), but we see him maintaining his power numbers -- projecting him for 29 homers, an .809 OPS, 67 RBIs and 62 runs scored in 505 plate appearances. But these projections are at least somewhat based off the data gathered from previous seasons, when Schwarber was more of a part-time, out-of-shape, all-or-nothing slugger. He could be a different player this campaign.

Schwarber was a consistent .300 hitter as a minor leaguer and has flashed signs this spring that, with a slimmer frame, he'll be able to play more games and perhaps do better against left-handed pitching while even providing some stolen base value.

The 14th round is far too long to wait for the 25-year-old Cubs' outfielder. A player with his ceiling is worth reaching for a couple rounds sooner, and if you've already had your draft and someone else has him, now is the time to make a play for him via trade.

There are a lot of signs pointing to a big season for Schwarber in 2018, and he could be a league-winning player in fantasy.