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Cubs' Kyle Schwarber wants to stay sharp as backup catcher

CHICAGO -- Don't tell Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber he can't catch, but ultimately he knows his position is mostly in the outfield where he'll return to action in 2017 after recovering from a serious knee injury last season.

"I'm not stupid," Schwarber said on ESPN 1000 in Chicago on Friday. "We have a really good catcher up here. We haveWillson (Contreras)and we have Miggy (Miguel Montero). I can contribute in a different way. I don't have to be the guy that throws out runners. But I can guide a pitcher through the game."

The Cubs and Schwarber have yet to sit down and plan out his spring, but the 23-year-old has every intention of reporting with pitchers and catchers next month when the Cubs open camp as World Series champions.

"I haven't gotten it in detail yet but I want to catch bullpens," Schwarber said. "But I have to see what they (the front office) say."

Defense aside, earlier this week manager Joe Maddon wrote down a 2017 lineup for the first time penciling in Schwarber at the top replacing the departed Dexter Fowler.

"The fastest lead-off hitter in the league, baby," Schwarber joked. "It's the first spot in the order but after that it doesn't matter."

Maddon's lineup would mean Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo would hit back-to-back-to-back in the first inning of every game.

"That stinks to be the other pitcher," Schwarber said with a smile. "That's tough. You have the MVP and then the runner-up who always gets votes every year."

Schwarber will undoubtedly be a popular attraction at this weekend's annual fan convention where the Cubs will display the World Series trophy for the first time in the convention's existence. Of course, their championship drought went back much further than that until Schwarber and his teammates ended it with a win in Game 7 of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians in November. Schwarber returned for the series in dramatic fashion after being written off due to two knee tears which occurred in the first week of the regular season.

Schwarber went 7 for 17 with three walks after being cleared to hit just days earlier. And he started the 10th inning, Game 7 rally with a single which helped the Cubs to victory.

"For me to work my butt off to have the opportunity to come back and make it happen, you can't put any words to it," Schwarber said. "I told myself if I sucked really bad I was just going to fake a knee injury. Luckily I didn't suck and we ended up winning the World Series.

"The competitor in me, even if it was 50 percent chance of getting injured, I think I would have played."

His return and success only enhanced his already legendary status in Chicago considering he became the franchise's all-time postseason home run leader when he hit five the previous season. Then came the injury and surprise return and success in the World Series where he raised his postseason OPS to a whopping 1.178.

Now Schwarber wants to prove he can play adequate left field and continue to develop as a catcher.

"Until Theo Epstein tells me I'm only a DH and I'm going to be traded or whatever, I'm a left fielder and a catcher and I'm going to keep doing it," Schwarber declared.

Schwarber takes offense when people claim he can't play catcher or at least average defense. He recalled a pre-draft interview with Epstein where he thought the team wouldn't draft him after he cursed during the interview.

"It f---ing pisses me off when people say I can't catch," Schwarber recalls telling Epstein in the meeting. "People that don't know me can't say I can't catch. That's what I take personally."

Schwarber has heard the criticism of his outfield play as well, especially after struggling in the field against the New York Mets during the 2015 playoffs. Then came his knee injury which occurred after colliding with Fowler in the outfield in April. Many were saying he shouldn't be out there.

"I know I can get better in the outfield," Schwarber stated. "That will be my focus in spring training."

Schwarber wasn't cleared to play the field in the World Series but he says he's ready to go now as he continues to strengthen his knee in conditioning drills. He'll start hitting again after the convention and trip to the White House on Monday where President Obama will honor the Cubs for their first championship in 108 years.

Schwarber was a big reason why the Cubs won their final games as he recalled the moment when his doctor told him he could participate in the World Series. It won't be one he forgets any time soon.

"He brought it up to me," Schwarber said. " 'You have something special going on here. I don't want to hold you back from that.' I hopped out of my chair like a little school girl."

Then he called Epstein, picked up a bat, took some swings and was activated all within a few days. The rest is history as Schwarber's hard work paid off in the form of a championship.

"The best quote I hear in the playoffs goes to our strength coach Tim Buss," Schwarber said. "If the Chicago Cubs are going to do this we are going to have to fight, scratch, claw. We might die once, but we are going to come back and win it. No one is going to roll over for this."

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