No one knew what to expect when the Chicago Cubs claimed Frank Schwindel off waivers from the Oakland Athletics on July 18, 2021. Some thought it spelled the end of Anthony Rizzo in a Cubs uniform. At first, I was hesitant to believe that. Schwindel made sense to take a flier on because the Cubs lacked farm system depth at the first base position.
A little over a week later, we learned Rizzo’s fate. One night before the trade deadline, Jed Hoyer pulled the trigger on a swap that sent Rizzo to the New York Yankees. The fallout of that deal led to the birth of “Frank The Tank.”
Schwindel finished with a .326 batting average overall. However, he slashed .342/.389/.613 (1.002 OPS) with 13 home runs and 40 RBIs in 56 games with the Cubs. Although he had initial success, questions remain. Was Schwindel’s 2021 breakout season real? Is this sustainable? The short answer is no. Yet, it’s deeper than that. It’s incredibly difficult to hit .342 throughout an entire season.
Nevertheless, Frank’s actual production lies somewhere in the middle. I’ve gone ahead and sifted through just about every page on the internet regarding Schwindel. Was Schwindel’s delayed rise inevitable, or is he a created MLB The Show player? He can’t be a post-hype sleeper. No one ever hyped him up. With that said, let’s look at his profile and what I believe we can expect from him in 2022.
Background and Progression
Schwindel was born on June 29, 1992, in Livingston, New Jersey. Playing baseball at Livingston High School, he earned three letters, including Livingston Male Athlete of the Year. After graduating high school in 2010, he played for three years at St. John’s University. Coming out of high school, Schwindel wasn’t ranked among New Jersey’s top prospects, according to PerfectGame.org. Being overlooked coming out of high school turned out to be only the beginning.
Schwindel totaled only nine home runs in 514 at-bats in his three years at St. John’s. However, he finished with a .327/.352/.446 college career slash line.
The Red Storm produced five MLB Draft picks in 2013. Schwindel was one of them, as the Kansas City Royals took a chance on him in the 18th round of the Draft. Two of the Red Storm’s draftees were selected ahead of Schwindel, including the Mariners’ fourth-round draft pick, Ryan Horstman. As far as I can tell, of the five St. John’s players selected in that Draft, none of the others have played a single game in the majors, and none of them are currently playing professional baseball at any level.
Hidden behind higher ranking prospects in the Royals’ farm system, Schwindel consistently produced at levels deserving of call-ups time and again, leaving many, including Frank, wondering what more he had to do. Originally, the Royals drafted Schwindel as a catcher. However, he hasn’t caught games regularly since 2014 with Low-A Lexington. Nonetheless, Frank didn’t have a true position to play defensively, and the Royals were more invested in other prospects. Needless to say, Schwindel sat in the minors longer than needed while further perfecting his craft at the dish and increasing his power output.
Spending a total of eight seasons in the minors, Schwindel slashed .286/.320/.479 with 135 home runs and 214 doubles across all levels. In both 2017 and 2018, Frank won Triple-A Omaha’s Player of the Year Award. Despite that, he wasn’t listed among the Royals’ top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. Even fellow first baseman Ryan O’Hearn was listed above him as their system’s 18th-best prospect.
In reality, O’Hearn wasn’t matching Schwindel’s on-field production. His 38 doubles in 2018 set a franchise single-season record at Omaha and ranked second among all hitters in the Pacific Coast League behind only Joshua Fuentes of the Rockies’ organization. Scouts had their concerns about Schwindel’s fielding. Still, their biggest issues with him as a hitter were plate discipline (ability to draw walks) and power (ability to hit homers), which is why a naturally gifted power hitter with better plate discipline like O’Hearn was always ahead of him in the pecking order.
Yet, what Schwindel lacked in power, he made up for with his overall hit tool and increased his power production yearly. 2018 was a career-best for him, hitting 24 homers at Triple-A Omaha, and it still wasn’t good enough to earn him a September call-up. Meanwhile, O’Hearn blasted 11 homers with a .232 average in 406 plate appearances, and he was gifted a promotion to the big leagues ahead of Schwindel in late July of 2018. At the time, Schwindel was hitting .272/.325/.488 with 19 bombs in 416 plate appearances. If that’s not a gut punch, I don’t know what is.
Finally in The Show
In 2019, Schwindel finally reached the majors. He made the Royals’ Opening Day roster out of Spring Training. Sadly, his initial time in the big leagues was short-lived. He was demoted after only six games and one hit in 15 plate appearances. Due to a lack of roster spots, Schwindel was designated for assignment two weeks later. Instead of letting the Royals jerk him around some more, Frank opted to forgo the minors and tried his luck on the open market.
On June 1, 2019, Schwindel signed with the Detroit Tigers. However, the Tigers also put him in the minors. Schwindel was invited to Spring Training in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the minor league season was canceled, and he spent the summer at the Tigers’ alternate site. At the end of 2020, he became a free agent once again. The Oakland A’s signed him and assigned him to Triple-A Las Vegas.
In his first game back in the big leagues on June 30, 2021, Frank hit an absolute tank. His first major league home run was a two-run shot into the second deck off Kolby Allard of the Texas Rangers. However, after only eight games with the A’s, Schwindel was placed on waivers. This time, the Cubs came in and scooped him up.
2021 Breakout Season
After the Cubs went through their firesale at the trade deadline, Schwindel received a ton of playing time and he made the most out of it. As mentioned, he hit .342 with 13 home runs and a 165 OPS+ in a Cubs uniform. At one point, he was the most clutch player on the planet. Schwindel won NL Player of the Week for his efforts from 8/30-9/5. The Cubs won six straight games during that span, and Schwindel had four game-winning hits. Not to mention, the Cubs won a seventh straight game the next day against the Reds, and Schwindel had another game-winning hit. That hit made it four-straight games with game-winning hits and his fifth time in six games.
Schwindel closed out the season winning back-to-back Rookie of the Month awards in August and September. He tied a Cubs rookie record with an extra-base hit in seven straight games. Among other tremendous feats Frank achieved, he joined Hank Sauer as the only other player in Cubs history to hit at least 12 home runs with a 1.050 OPS in his first 40 games with the team. Sauer wound up winning an MVP Award in 1952.
A Look at the Numbers
While Schwindel finished with a .326 batting average, his expected batting average was .270. Conveniently, Steamer projects him to hit .268 in 2022. Had he qualified, Schwindel would’ve finished second in the majors in batting average to only Trea Turner (.328). Of course, it’s easy to play the ‘what-if’ game with nearly 400 fewer plate appearances. Would Schwindel hit close to or better than Turner with the same number of plate appearances? It isn’t very likely.
Be that as it may, Frank possesses exceptional bat-to-ball skills for an above-average power hitter. Above average in the sense that he finished with a .451 expected slugging compared to MLB’s .402 average expected slugging. In addition, his hard-hit rate and strikeout percentage were above-average, 39.8 percent HH to MLB’s average 35.4 percent. Frank struck out 15.8 percent compared to MLB’s average of 22 percent.
Schwindel mashed fastballs. He hit .338 with a .278 expected batting average against fastballs. From a slugging standpoint, Schwindel crushed them. 11 of his 14 home runs came against fastballs. In addition, he had as much success against breaking balls as he did fastballs. Frank hit .354 with a .281 expected average against breaking balls. More of his power output came against fastballs, but he hit breaking balls harder.
Run values and hard-hit rates versus sliders, curveballs, and four-seam fastballs.
- vs. SL: 7 RV, .361 BA, 41.7% HH
- vs. CB: 5 RV, .333 BA, 42.9% HH
- vs. 4SFB: 9 RV, .359 BA, 37.3% HH
Was There Anything Frank Struggled with or Can Improve On?
Schwindel struggled with changeups, splitters, and walk rate, according to the numbers. The change of pace was a little bit of a rough spot for Frank in 2021. Out of all the pitch types he faced, the changeup was the fourth-most pitch thrown to him at 12.2 percent. It was the only pitch ‘Frank The Tank’ had a negative run value against, with negative one to be exact. It wasn’t a crazy number in the wrong direction, but it’s notable. In 32 plate appearances against changeups, Frank hit only .226 with a .218 expected batting average and a 30 percent whiff rate.
Along with changeups, Frank only faced 14 pitches classified as splitters, but he didn’t fare well against the pitch. He swung and missed at half of them and didn’t get a single hit off a splitter. Luckily, not every pitcher has that in their arsenal, and it could also be that the sample size wasn’t large enough to determine his ability to handle the pitch ultimately. Seldomly facing the pitch makes it a new wrinkle, and it could play off other pitches he’s used to seeing. In other words, he might’ve looked worse against splitters because he was more accustomed to seeing different pitches and not expecting it or anticipating it.
Although he doesn’t strike out much, he also doesn’t walk at a high clip, especially for a first baseman. Frank’s 6.2 percent walk rate would’ve ranked second-worst among qualified first basemen. Following his minor league career, it’s unlikely this number improves much. In the minors, Frank’s highest minor league walk rate was 6.1 percent in 2018 with the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate.
2022 Season Outlook
THE BAT and THE BAT X projection systems show Schwindel hitting .246 this season. Looking at his profile, those projections seem low. In fact, those are the lowest projections I could find. While he almost certainly will regress because the numbers he generated in his short time with the Cubs are unsustainable, there’s a path for him to succeed above expectations.
Comparatively, Anthony Rizzo has similar projections in the batting average and home run departments for this upcoming season. Certainly, those aren’t the only areas he’ll need to produce in to make him a quality 1v1 replacement. Rizzo was fantastic defensively and took his share of walks. He was also a tremendous team leader. While he might not be an experienced team leader yet, Schwindel is a great clubhouse guy based on reports.
Considering what the Cubs are paying him, he could be a valuable asset this upcoming season. Fantasy baseball managers should also take notice. Ready for the kicker? The Cubs have him under team control through the 2027 season if they choose to keep him that long. Making minimum salary and entering his peak as a 29-year-old rookie, the Cubs may have an absolute steal here. Expect regression, but prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
Stat line prediction: .275/.319/.478, 24 HR, 82 RBIs, 74 R, 2 SB
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