Frank Schwindel, Alfonso Rivas and the Cubs’ lineup puzzle
MILWAUKEE — Believe it or not, the first month of the 2022 MLB season is almost over.
And as the calendar is about to flip to May, the Cubs have a pair of first basemen at either end of the spectrum — Alfonso Rivas’ hot start has warranted more playing time while Frank Schwindel is still trying to find his groove.
Schwindel took the baseball world by storm last season, notching National League Rookie of the Month honors in both August and September.
His production hasn’t matched that level so far this season, as he’s hitting .235 with a .645 OPS.
“Not a great start by my standards,” he said. “Working every day to get back to feeling good. That’s why there are a lot of games in a season. It’s gonna happen.
“Just haven’t gotten into one of those hot streaks yet. Grinding until I do.”
Schwindel has shown flashes of the hitter that posted an eye-popping .342 batting average and 1.002 OPS in 56 games with the Cubs last season.
He raked in Spring Training (.389 AVG, 1.056 OPS) and there’s something to be said for the 9-game hitting streak he went on in the first two weeks of the regular season.
But he feels like his timing is off right now.
“Caught in between,” Schwindel said. “Late on some fastballs, ahead of some offspeed.”
As he works his way back to form, his manager actually sees a positive in how Schwindel has battled through the early-season bumps in the road.
“The sign of a good hitter to me is a guy that can tread water when they don’t feel sexy and they don’t feel at their best,” Ross said. “The fact that he’s saying that is probably a little bit of truth. I feel like his timing may be a little bit off right now. I still have a lot of confidence in him at the plate, that’s for sure.”
Schwindel missed about a week of action in Spring Training with low back tightness and he said the issue still pops up from time to time. He feels like he’s on a good rehab program and refused to use that as any sort of excuse for his slow start.
Schwindel was out of the starting lineup Thursday and Friday and he chose to make the most of that time — as a mental and physical reset.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Schwindel said. “Get the body right, get extra swings in the cage, extra swings during the game for those pinch-hit opportunities. I take it as a positive.”
In his place, the Cubs trotted out rookie Alfonso Rivas at first base in back-to-back games.
Rivas singled in his first 2 at-bats Friday at American Family Field, and now sports a season batting line of .471/.550/.706 in 20 plate appearances.
He obviously won’t be able to sustain that production forever but the Cubs have seen Rivas make strides in some important areas.
“The ball is in the air a little bit more — something he’s been working on,” Ross said. “Just the calmness and the ability to have the consistent at-bat not playing every day. There’s just not a lot going on with his swing. It’s kind of a no-stride, more of weight shift so timing hasn’t really been an issue for him.
“He feels like he’s controlling the strike zone really well and barreling things when he does make contact.”
The 25-year-old showed also impressed in his 18-game cup of coffee last season. He hit .318 with a .797 OPS in 49 plate appearances before a finger injury ended his year prematurely.
The Cubs have to whittle their roster down to 26 on Monday and send 2 players down to the minors. Rivas’ production has been elite so far, but he also is one of the few players on the roster bubble that has minor league options remaining.
If he forces the Cubs’ hand and remains in the majors, there is still a world where Rivas and Schwindel co-exist in the lineup on a regular basis.
Rivas can play the corner outfield spots and the Cubs could always utilize the DH spot to get both bats in the lineup.