CHICAGO -- The Cubs felt that Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber was the best hitter available in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, and had him No. 2 on their wish list, behind high school left-hander Brady Aiken.
As soon as the Astros made Aiken the No. 1 pick overall on Thursday, the Cubs held their breath in hopes that Schwarber would be available at No. 4.
"He does everything that we like from an offensive standpoint in terms of controlling the strike zone, hitting for average, hitting for power," said Jason McLeod, the Cubs' senior vice president of scouting and player development. "His makeup is off the charts."
For the third straight year, the Cubs took a position player in the first round. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein chose outfielder Albert Almora in 2012 and third baseman Kris Bryant in 2013.
McLeod and Epstein met Schwarber in Arizona when Indiana played there during its spring trip this year, and talked to him for about 45 minutes.
One of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award, presented to the top Division I catcher in the country, Schwarber batted .358 with 14 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .659 slugging percentage in his junior year. In his final eight games for the Hoosiers, he batted .469 with four home runs, 12 RBIs and a .938 slugging percentage.
He was named the Big Ten tournament's Most Outstanding Player and selected to the all-tournament team at the NCAA Bloomington Regional.
A native of Middletown, Ohio, Schwarber is majoring in recreational sports management. In high school he was a four-time MVP and second-team All-Ohio linebacker.
"I was 8 or 10, and I was a catcher," Schwarber told the Cincinnati Enquirer, "and my grandmother said to me, 'I want you to be like Johnny Bench.' I said, 'Who's Johnny Bench?' She said, 'The best catcher to ever play the game.' She told me all about him."
Schwarber did meet Bench during a national tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y., and had a picture taken with the Hall of Famer.
Schwarber was not drafted out of high school.
"In football, the middle linebacker is the field captain, and it's the same for a catcher in baseball -- you're the field manager," he told the Enquirer. "You control the staff -- they trust you, and you trust them -- and you have to know where everyone's playing. You direct. It's a big responsibility. I love it."
Hoosiers baseball coach Tracy Smith's wife, Jamie, is from Middletown, and urged her husband to look at Schwarber.
"It's still amazing when I think back to recruiting him," Smith told the Indianapolis Star last year. "It wasn't like we had to beat out a bunch of people to get him. He was a relatively unknown player, thank goodness."
Whether Schwarber will be a catcher in the big leagues remains to be seen. He loves the role.
"Catching is what I really want to be doing," he said. "There's no other position I want to play. I like catching because it's down and dirty and gritty. It's an awesome position."
McLeod said that Schwarber has the mentality and makeup to be a big league catcher.
"He's got the will to do it," McLeod said. "We'll let that play out. We feel he's a really good, underrated athlete who could move to an outfield position in the corner. His bat is really why we drafted him. We think it's an impact bat from the left side, which we lack."
In 2013, Schwarber was selected the best catcher in the country by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. He actually became a catcher because of his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, he said he couldn't focus at any other position.
"I was the kid who was all over the place, left and right," he said.
The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com pregame show begins at 11:30 a.m. CT, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at noon CT.
The Cubs do lack pitching in the organization, but in the past two years have added arms in the later rounds. That's the same approach they'll take this year, according to McLeod.
"When you're picking that high in the Draft, you have a chance to get a talented, impactful player, and that's what we're going to do, and that was no different this year," McLeod said. "Kyle was No. 2 on our list. We're very excited to bring him into the organization and select him. I think you'll see as the Draft plays out, we'll try to hit pitchers heavy."
The Cubs have been assigned a pool of $8,352,200, which ranks sixth in the Majors. The value assigned to the Cubs' first-round pick is $4,621,200. However, McLeod said they expect to be able to sign Schwarber quickly and have some financial flexibility to use in the later rounds.
Area scout Stan Zielinski contacted Schwarber a few days ago to let him know that the team was interested. Schwarber had talked baseball with Epstein during their earlier meeting in Mesa.
"It was a great conversation," Schwarber said.
The two talked again on Thursday after the selection was made.
"I'm really embracing the moment, and that's what Theo told me: 'Just embrace this moment, take your time, and when the time's right, we'll call and take a day to sit down and talk about things,'" Schwarber said.
Earlier Thursday, Schwarber played at Weatherwax Golf Course in his hometown and had lots of family and friends around him as he watched the Draft, including some of his Little League buddies.
"It was an awesome turnout," he said.
Schwarber knows a little about Wrigley Field, having taken batting practice there while prepping with USA's Collegiate National Team.
"That's the first time I've ever been at Wrigley," Schwarber said of the workout. "I fell in love with the place right away. The scenery and the history of it all -- it's awesome."
He did grow up a Reds fan -- Middleton is about 20 minutes from Cincinnati -- but he'll root for the Cubs now. He also is aware that the team is in rebuilding mode, and such players as himself, Bryant and Almora are key. In addition, he and Bryant faced off during his freshman year at Indiana. What did he think of the Cubs' 2013 No. 1 pick?
"Yeah, he could hit," Schwarber said.
Former big leaguers Ted Lilly and Darnell McDonald, who recently joined the front office as special assistants, were both in the Cubs' war room at Wrigley Field on Thursday.
Cubs draft Stinnett to wrap up Day 1
CHICAGO -- Right-hander Jake Stinnett was drafted by the Pirates last June but chose to finish school. The Cubs are glad he did.
On Thursday the Cubs picked Stinnett from Maryland in the second round of the First-Year Player Draft. He was the 45th player taken overall.
Stinnett is a little different from previous pitchers selected. He originally played third base for Maryland and didn't start focusing on pitching until his junior year, in 2013. This year his velocity has reportedly increased, and his slider has improved.
In 2011, Stinnett started 40 games at third base and hit .174, which may explain the switch to pitcher. That year he made five relief appearances and picked up two saves. In 2012 he did well in relief and was named the MVP of his team in the fall World Series of the New England Collegiate League.
Last year he was a closer, then moved into the rotation and compiled a 2.83 ERA. On March 1 he threw a no-hitter against Massachusetts, Maryland's first since 2008.
"He had pretty much everything working," Maryland coach John Szefc said after that game. "It doesn't happen every day that a guy is that sharp. He's able to throw strikes and command the zone almost on command. Whereas last year, when he was still developing, I don't think he had that kind of command. It's hard to beat him, because he's constantly in the zone."
On March 21, Stinnett struck out 14 over eight innings to lead Maryland to a 10-0 win over North Carolina State and Carlos Rodon, who was taken third overall this year by the White Sox. Rodon served up eight unearned runs over 4 2/3 innings in that game and took the loss.
The Cubs, who earlier in the evening selected catcher Kyle Schwarber of Indiana with the fourth pick overall, now have taken position players in the first three years under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, after choosing outfielder Albert Almora in 2012 and third baseman Kris Bryant in 2013.
After selecting Almora, the Cubs switched their emphasis to pitching, and drafted arms with the next seven picks -- including two in the supplemental round. Epstein placed the emphasis on pitching last year as well, as they chose six hurlers out of seven picks after Bryant.
The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com pregame show begins at 11:30 a.m. CT, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at noon.
After being selected by Pittsburgh in the 29th round in 2013, Stinnett rejected a $70,000 offer. It wasn't an easy decision.
"I just tried to put some things in perspective for him," Szefc told the Washington Post. "I wasn't trying to sandbag him into coming back. I really felt like if he came back with a plan and if [pitching coach] Jimmy [Belanger] helped him the way he has, that things would work out for him and he would get a better chance to make it to the back end."
It's hard to pass up an offer to play pro ball.
"When it comes down to it, I just wanted another season here with these guys, these coaches and a chance to get closer to getting my degree," Stinnett told the Post. "I just thought it was the best thing for the team and the best thing for myself overall, and I couldn't be happier with my decision."
It paid off. This year, Stinnett posted a 7-6 record and 2.65 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) for Maryland, striking out 130 and walking 27 over 112 innings. He leads the ACC in strikeouts and ranks third nationally, and now holds Maryland's single-season strikeout record.
He helped Maryland sweep the Columbia Regional, and the Terps face Virginia in their first Super Regional appearance this weekend.
"This is what you play for right here," Stinnett said about the tournament. "This program has just taken big leaps since I've been here. I've always had faith in the team and always thought we had talent every single year and always thought we were going to make the tournament."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.