According to Fantasypros aggregate ADP, Kyle Schwarber is going as the 20th outfielder and 67th player off the board in drafts, ahead of outfielders like Mark Trumbo, Justin Upton, Jose Bautista, and Khris Davis. After an amazing rookie season in 2015 and a miraculous return from a knee injury to play in the 2016 World Series, fantasy owners are seeing nothing but roses when looking at Schwarber’s potential. Schwarber is being drafted like a surefire top 20 outfielder, but there is still plenty of risk which is not being factored into his draft day price. As his value currently stands, Schwarber is undraftable in leagues where is only outfield eligible.
First we need to look at Schwarber’s 2015 rookie seasons, which is his only major league experience save for the World Series. Schwarber took the majors by storm in his rookie season, putting up the following stat line:
These are the numbers of an exceptional power hitter, but what really excited fantasy owners was Schwarber’s catcher eligibility. Catcher is by far the weakest position in all of fantasy baseball, and to have a catcher with Schwarber’s offensive abilities would be a huge advantage on the rest of the league. A healthy Kyle Schwarber had (and still has) the potential to be the best offensive catcher in baseball. The problem is that Schwarber’s days as even a part time catcher could be behind him, even if he were to gain catcher eligibility at any point in the season it most likely wouldn’t be until midsummer. The Cubs already have a good young catcher that needs time behind the plate in Willson Contreras, and a solid veteran backing him up in Miguel Montero. They have no reason to risk putting Schwarber behind the plate. If you’re drafting Schwarber, do not bank on him gaining catcher eligibility, he’s an outfielder and should be treated as such unless your league’s eligibility rules say otherwise.
Schwarber is being drafted as a roster anchor, and if you’re taking him in the 6th or 7th as an outfielder chances are you’re trying to get power, but as a power source, Schwarber lags behind the others in this area. For the purposes of power and run production there is no reason to take Schwarber over similarly priced power hitters like Mark Trumbo, Todd Frazier, or Chris Davis. Heck you can even wait a little longer and get Jose Bautista, Khris Davis, or Matt Kemp. Those players have hit for power over multiple seasons in the majors, and while they are batting average liabilities, Schwarber will not be helping your batting average anyway, and these players could outpower Schwarber by 10-20 home runs.
Schwarber’s brief time in the majors was impressive, but his 2015 season ran parallel with another big power prospect that debuted that year, Twins 3B/OF Miguel Sano. When comparing those two names I think most people instinctively say that Schwarber is way better than Sano and they can’t even be compared, their ADP would agree, but looking at Sano’s rookie numbers and you’ll see a striking similarity between him and Schwarber.
Sano had about 60 extra plate appearances, but the stat lines are similar. While Schwarber is being drafted in the 6th round, Sano is going in the 11th. It’s clear that Miguel Sano hype is no longer in vogue in the fantasy community, and after last season’s struggles many have written off Sano, but before dismissing this comparison completely, pull up the profile page of both players on your favorite baseball stats site and you’ll see that Sano and Schwarber are not that different. Both have prodigious power and excel at taking walks, both have concerns with staying healthy, both seem incapable of playing the field, and both have atrocious strikeout rates. Sano put up similar numbers to Schwarber in nearly every regard and as a result rocketed up draft boards the following season. In 2016 Sano succumbed to weaknesses and disappointed his owners. Of course Sano’s career 35.8% strikeout rate is worse than Schwarber’s 28.4%, but both have severe contact issues. If both are being drafted as outfielder’s, there’s no reason to take the gamble on Schwarber in the 6th round when Sano is going in the 11th, you’re getting a similar player either way.
The reason that Sano is a good comparison to Schwarber is that his case is a warning to fantasy players. If Schwarber played out a full season in 2016 he likely would have had his own struggles and growing pains, just like Sano had. Players don’t always develop incrementally in regimented succession, they can (and mostly do) suffer struggles along the way, and since our most recent image of Schwarber was him slugging in the World Series, the perception of his value has become distorted. Schwarber cannot play the outfield, he simply has to because there is nowhere else for him to play. Schwarber will strikeout more than 25% of the time, and will probably push 30%. Schwarber is likely to see more days off than the average player, and will miss plate appearances due to defensive replacements. This is not meant to be a scathing indictment against Kyle Schwarber, because he is a very talented player that will likely be a superstar at some point in his career, but at his current ADP at this stage in his career, he isn’t worth the risk.
Based on his current 6th round draft price I don’t see how a projected .260 hitter with sub-30 HR power and no speed could fit into any team composition without major sacrifices. Since the first couple rounds of a draft are largely boilerplate based on consensus rankings, leagues are won and lost in the high middle rounds. The 6th round is not the time to take undue risk when so many known quantities are still available. Since his name was and still is in the news so much, it can be hard to remember how little major league experience Schwarber has. He has half a major league season under his belt, and even if his maximum potential is superstardom, there is no reason to expect that in 2017, Schwarber has so much catching up to do in his player development. He might be a first or second rounder someday, but for 2017 let somebody else take the risk on him.