Maddon: Cubs' flexibility will be tested early

Maddon: Cubs' flexibility will be tested early

PHOENIX -- With Kyle Schwarber out for the season because of a severe knee injury, what do the Cubs do now? On Friday, Jorge Soler was in the lineup in left, and manager Joe Maddon said he'll take advantage of the versatile roster and rotate players there.

"We talked about our flexibility in Spring Training," Maddon said. "It's being tested early."

Munenori Kawasaki was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to take Schwarber's spot on the roster, but he will be used more as a backup infielder. Soler, Matt Szczur, Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist could see playing time in left, and the Cubs also will use Javier Baez there once he is activated from the disabled list.

"No one's going to replace Kyle Schwarber, but we have a lot of talented players who now need to step up to the forefront," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Friday.

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Baez has been sidelined with a bruised left thumb, and his rehab was slowed when he fouled a ball off his face. Maddon said Friday that Baez is now cleared to play games in extended spring games, but he still needs some at-bats in the Minor Leagues.

Schwarber wasn't just an outfielder; he was also a catcher. He had been paired this spring with Jason Hammel and was scheduled to catch Friday. It was a luxury to have three backstops, and now Maddon said he just has to find an emergency catcher.

Teammates rally behind Schwarber

The Cubs have been looking for more consistency from Soler, and they are hoping he takes advantage of this opportunity. Last October, Soler batted .474 in seven postseason games. He hit .262 during the regular season.

"I've seen better overall focus out of him this camp," Maddon said of Soler. "I see how hard he works on defense with [coach Dave Martinez]. He's going to be good. Maybe it'll happen sooner now."

It's been tough for Soler, who had primarily played right field but was switched to left with the arrival of Jason Heyward.

"For me, it's easier to play right field," Soler said. "I can play left field, also."

Anthony Rizzo took a moment in the clubhouse before Friday's game to talk to Soler and tell him to be ready. The Cubs' depth will be tested.

"I think we'll continue to have the ability to put a lineup full of really talented position players every night, but Kyle is unique in a lot of ways," Epstein said.

Replacing Schwarber on your team

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)

The loss of Schwarber is undoubtedly a tough blow to fantasy owners who invested heavily in the premier catcher option. Owners in one-catcher leagues should be able to work the waiver wire each week to find a useful option, with plenty of serviceable backstops such as J.T. Realmuto and Wilson Ramos likely to be available. But owners in two-catcher leagues may need to explore the trade market for a suitable replacement. Keeper-league owners should be aware that Schwarber may not retain his catcher eligibility in 2017, as he did not appear at that position during the first week of this season.

Soler should be added in virtually all mixed leagues despite his modest 2015 production (.262 average, 10 homers over 366 at-bats). Having hit .303 with 28 homers across 557 at-bats during his Minor League career, the outfielder has the potential to make notable strides this season. If Maddon hands him a full-time role, the 24-year-old Soler could produce plentiful counting stats as part of a loaded Cubs lineup. Schwarber's injury may also open up more playing time for Baez, who could play often in a super-utility role when he returns from the disabled list in the coming days. Baez may not post a respectable batting average, but his plus power will make him an asset in NL-only leagues.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.