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How Frank Schwindel was able to reach new heights with Cubs in 2021

2 years agoTony Andracki

Anytime a player breaks out in Major League Baseball, there are a multitude of reasons why it occurs at that specific time.

Whether it’s a mechanical change in the player’s swing/delivery or being inserted into the right situation or simply everything clicking in all at once, it is usually multiple factors coming together.

That’s especially true when the breakout comes from a 29-year-old career journeyman.

With a huge final two months of the 2021 season, Frank Schwindel not only made a name for himself in Chicago but in all of baseball. He won the National League Rookie of the month for both August and September and became only the third rookie over the last decade to tally at least 40 hits in September.

He was unstoppable, hitting .342 with a 1.002 OPS in 56 games, striking out only 15.8% of the time while also delivering power (33 extra-base hits).

So what was behind that immediate success?

That’s an easy answer for Schwindel, who was claimed off waivers by the Cubs on July 18 and earned an everyday opportunity after Anthony Rizzo was traded away at the July 30 deadline.

“Basically they met with me, they said, ‘you’re our guy and you’re gonna play every day at first base,’” Schwindel said on the latest Cubs Weekly Podcast. “I’ve never been told that before. Just the confidence they had in me, it allowed me to go out there and not have to worry about looking at the lineup and seeing if I’m playing or not or tracking when the lefty’s gonna be throwing and seeing if I’m in the lineup or not.

“They just said, ‘we’re riding with you, go do your thing.’ That’s the first time I felt the confidence from the organization and that makes it a lot easier as a player to go out there and do your thing.”

For Schwindel, that confidence was everything. He actually made the Opening Day roster with the Kansas City Royals in 2019 and started Game 1, but did not draw another start for over a week after that.

By April 10, the Royals had sent him down to Triple-A and then later released him that May. He signed on with the Detroit Tigers but didn’t get another big-league opportunity until this past summer in Oakland.

Schwindel was tearing the cover off the ball with Oakland’s Triple-A team in Las Vegas (.317 average, .992 OPS) but when he got called up to the majors, he found himself back in a platoon role.

When the Cubs picked him up, it wound up becoming a perfect situation for Schwindel. Jed Hoyer’s front office and David Ross’ coaching staff were focused on evaluating what they had for the future, so there was plenty of opportunity for Schwindel to get everyday at-bats and showcase what he could do with an extended run in the majors.

“Nothing changed as a player,” Schwindel said. “It’s my same swing. I go about everyday life the same — working hard and everything. But once they gave me that, ‘you’re our guy,’ it’s like, alright, now I can go play baseball.

“It’s the first time I had that confidence from the staff. It just made it a lot easier as a player to believe in myself.”

Schwindel felt that confidence permeate throughout his game. He entered the clubhouse on a daily basis feeling comfortable and he was blown away by how the Cubs coaching staff invested time in him defensively.

Bench coach Andy Green handled the infield defense for the Cubs and over the last two months of the 2021 season, he could be found nearly every day out at first base working with Schwindel on defense before games.

“That meant a lot to me,” Schwindel said. “Obviously they want their best product on the field but for one of the first times [in my career], it seemed like they actually cared for me to get better out there. Not just — ‘go out and hit and whatever happens, happens on defense.’

“They wanted me to be a complete player. … The fact that they cared enough to work with me and they wanted me to be better, it made me want to be even better.”

Schwindel said he has taken all of those lessons into the offseason in hopes of returning in 2022 as an even better player on both sides of the ball.

There are a lot of questions to be answered before the start of the 2022 season — including whether or not there will be a DH in the NL under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement — but Schwindel certainly appears to have a regular role carved out for himself in some form on the Cubs roster.

“That was a lot of fun to watch – watching the way he played, the energy he had, the way he grinded his at-bats, the ability to hit for power without striking out much was really special,” Jed Hoyer said of Schwindel’s breakout after the season ended. “I couldn’t be more happy for him in his situation to go out and prove it the way he did.

“Frank is gonna be a big part of our team next year. I’m not gonna make out lineups or anoint different guys at different positions but certainly excited he’s on our team for next year and I think he’ll play a big role.”

It’s safe to say many Cubs fans agree with that sentiment.

Schwindel quickly emerged as a fan favorite in Chicago, especially during an impactful Labor Day weekend when he tallied 10 hits in a 4-game series against the Pirates — including 3 homers and a walk-off single.

During that weekend, Schwindel had about 10 childhood friends in town from New Jersey and described his rise to fame over the course of only a couple days:

“We went out the one night for a couple beers at Murphy’s and they didn’t really know who I was,” Schwindel said. “We walk in, go pay for our drinks, whatever. Two days later, we could hardly get in without pictures, autographs, [people saying] ‘hey come over here, come hang out with us.’

“My buddies are having a better time than me because I’m just hanging out, trying to soak it all in. I feel like it happened overnight. … Just the way they embraced me and welcomed me into the city, it was an awesome feeling to see that.”

Schwindel’s performance obviously did wonders to win over Cubs fans, but his personality and relaxed vibe helped accelerate the process. From dugout celebrations to pointing at Green after making a nice play in the field, Schwindel always looked like he was having a blast.

“There’s no better feeling than putting on a big league uniform,” he said. “Just having as much fun as you can. Not necessarily messing around but you go out there and you have a good time. This game’s hard enough. There’s nothing wrong with throwing a smile here and there.”

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