MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Schwarber, Cubs already a smash hit in 2016

Windshield-breaking homer could be a fitting start to a landmark season

Schwarber, Cubs already a smash hit in 2016

He did what? He did it when?

Of course he did.

Of course Kyle Schwarber broke the windshield of a car with a batting practice home run during a voluntary workout before Cubs Spring Training officially began.

What did you expect? A few popups and some warning-track flies?

Nope. This is Schwarber, and this is what he does. These are the Cubs, finally caffeinated and ready to beat every team in sight, behind a lineup of kids as fearless as that one Pony League team in your town that nobody ever wanted to play.

They're the biggest story in the Major Leagues this season, just like they were when they ran into all that New York Mets pitching last October.

But they were just getting started in 2015, after all. They didn't even have outfield bleachers on Opening Day. This was a fantastically fun team to watch, but one that spent a long time on training wheels.

Now 2016, that's a different question. Is this "The Year," the one that generations of fans have awaited since 1908? Everybody says so.

Did you see the pants Bill Murray was wearing at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Saturday? They screamed as loudly as all the forecasts of numbers-crunchers and less objective analysts.

Cut4: Bill Murray's Cubs-themed argyle pants

Thanks to Schwarber, there's now an omen proclaiming the start of something truly special.

It's perfect that it was the Cubs' baby-faced terror who made the start of Spring Training memorable. Like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, Schwarber proved to be an unusually quick study when he arrived at Wrigley Field last year, like he was bred in a secret lab somewhere to be a curse-buster. He almost didn't yet know what he was doing as he delivered a .355 on-base percentage, 16 homers and an .842 OPS in 69 big league games.

This was a kid barely a year removed from playing for Indiana University?

Schwarber and Jorge Soler were nightmares for opposing pitchers throughout the postseason. They were hardly alone, either.

Anthony Rizzo and Bryant had their moments. Russell and Javier Baez provided strong presences at shortstop. But it was Schwarber who provided the signature moment, with that majestic blast to the top of the right-field video board on the night they pounded the Cardinals to unofficially signal a changing of the guard in the National League Central.

Statcast: Schwarber's moonshot

When Schwarber takes batting practice, you should probably park your car a long, long way away from the field. A fan named Peter Gesler learned that the hard way.

Gesler will always be able to tell his grandkids about the day his car went viral. Schwarber even helped Gesler receive an offer from Safelite AutoGlass to repair the damage.

One thing you may have forgotten about last year's Cubs is that there was a time last season when they had a hard time scoring runs. That changed when Schwarber was summoned from Triple-A for good.

The Cubs averaged 3.9 runs per game in the first half of the season, ranking 11th in the NL. Their average would have been lower if not for Schwarber crushing the ball on a June trip to Cleveland and Minnesota, where Joe Maddon got to use a DH.

Schwarber 's first start? It was a 17-0 win over the Indians.

Only the Yoenis Cespedes-driven Mets outscored the Cubs once Schwarber settled into left field. The Cubs' averaged 4.7 runs in the second half.

With Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist now in the lineup, it appears they were only getting started. If El Nino cooperates, they've got a real shot at 800 runs this year, a total no NL team has reached since 2009.

Heyward getting ready for 2016

In the 2015 Bill James Handbook, Baseball Info Solutions projected Bryant to hit .266 with 33 homers and 105 RBIs as a rookie. He almost got there. Rizzo surpassed the James projection that he would hit .274 with 34 homers, 91 RBIs and an .875 OPS.

We mention this because it's time to consider those James projections for 2016. He's got Bryant down for .303, 37 homers, 120 RBIs and a .969 OPS in the follow-up to his NL Rookie of the Year Award-winning season. Rizzo remains about where his projection was last year. Russell, Soler and Baez are all forecast to hit between .263 and .284 with 20-27 home runs and 78-96 RBIs.

And the mighty Schwarber, a threat to windshields as well as video boards? Somehow he was overlooked in the book. I figured this was simply an editorial mistake, but it could have been a tacit acknowledgement that it's impossible to measure the upside Schwarber brings in his first full season.

So I checked with James, who directed me to Scott Spratt, who managed the hitter and pitcher projections in the Handbook. He said it was a simple oversight and forwarded Schwarber's 2016 forecast.

The folks who pretty much nailed Bryant's rookie season have Schwarber down for a .286 batting average and a .930 OPS in his first full season, with 36 home runs, 92 walks, 110 runs and 103 RBIs.

Let 'er rip, kid.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.