Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ will see time in Majors soon

February 25, 2015; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) watches from outside the batting cage during a spring training workout at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
February 25, 2015; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) watches from outside the batting cage during a spring training workout at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Cubs have made it clear. When it comes to the draft, they prefer hitters over everything else. So far, it has worked. And, the trend continues.

For the last five drafts when the team had a first-round pick, the Chicago Cubs front office chose offense over pitching. And, to this point, they appear to know what they are doing. Since 2011, they have drafted Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber. All contributed to the World Series success in 2016. Could another bat be on the way?

Like the four players mentioned, the Cubs drafted switch-hitting second baseman Ian Happ early in the first round. The star player from the University of Cincinnati is one of the best in school history. A two-time All-American, American Conference Player of the Year, Happ is top five in walks, stolen bases, and on-base percentage all time at his alma mater. For reference, former MLB All-Star Kevin Youkilis leads in walks and on-base percentage for the school.

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Does this performance transfer to the Majors? That is the main question. To this point, the Cubs’ front office has been right on their picks. Will Happ continue the trend? There is great hope for the No. 21 prospect in the MLB.

Happ-enings in the Minors

Happ split time between four minor-league squads since being drafted in 2015. Ending his first season in South Bend, moving from Eugene (OR) after the All-Star Break, Happ finished the year with a .259/.356/.466 split, with nine homers and 33 runs batted in. All told, he played in 67 games total.

The 2016 season found him starting in Advanced-A Myrtle Beach and then Double-A Tennessee. The results showed improvement offensively. After 134 games, Happ showed his potential. With a .279/.365/.445 split, improved power numbers, and ability to take a base when needed, offense will not be a concern for the young prospect.

Defensively, however, there are some issues. While drafted as a second baseman, he may be asked to play outfield when he will get the call to the Chicago Cubs. In his two years in the minors, he played 93 games at second. He also committed 13 errors in 425 chances. The team asked Happ to learn all three outfield positions, and the results have been promising. In 83 games, split between all fields, Happ committed only five errors and has four outfield assists. That is better than top prospect Eloy Jimenez.

Happ finished off the 2016 season in style. In the Arizona Fall League Championship, he went 4-4 with a double and homering from both sides of the plate. The Mesa Solar Sox won the championship with a 6-1 victory over the Surprise Saguaros. Both home runs were over the right field wall.

What Happens next?

The 22-year old Happ will likely start 2017 in Tennessee but should move up to Triple-A Iowa if his bat flourishes. Don’t be surprised if he plays quite a bit in left field as the Cubs are weakest defensively in that position. His bat is worth keeping around, and the call to majors could come as early as June should injury or poor bench performance occur. Happ is the type of player that a team will make room to have. His high on-base, hitting to all fields, and speed makes him a contender to lead-off during his career.

Scouts rank Happ overall at 55/80, with is bat a 60/80. Comparisons can be made between him and Washington Nationals’ second baseman Daniel Murphy – a bat that keeps him in the line-up regardless of play in the field. With a log-jam of talent on the Chicago Cubs blocking Happ in terms of position, he will be attractive bait to other clubs. If the team is struggling in either the rotation or bullpen, Happ could draw attention and a big name in return.

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While there are tons of “ifs” involved, there is no doubt that Ian Happ is a professional hitter. He may become the next batter Manager Joe Maddon says he could call up at 3 am if needed, like he stated about Tommy La Stella. If needed, the Cubs could call him up this year. Or in 2018. But, he is also valuable on the trade market. This will make 2017 an interesting season for Happ.