Chicago Cubs: Prospect Ian Happ looking for his role in big leagues

Mar 5, 2016; Mesa, AZ, USA; General view of Sloan Park prior to the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2016; Mesa, AZ, USA; General view of Sloan Park prior to the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports /

Chicago Cubs prospect Ian Happ has skyrocketed through the minor leagues and is in big league camp this year, looking for his role moving forward.

Ranked 54th on Baseball Prospectus’ Preseason Top 101 Prospects list, Chicago Cubs utility man prospect Ian Happ is already turning heads.

Entering just his third professional season, the former ninth overall pick is following in the footsteps of teammates Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez, learning multiple positions on the fly. Last year, he appeared in games at second base and all three outfield spots.

Despite his impressive resume, Happ is facing roadblock after roadblock on his path to Chicago. Across the diamond, the Cubs are loaded with talent. But, for the 22-year-old prospect, this spring is about making the most of his time around his World Champion teammates.

"“I’ve been picking all these guys’ brains. It’s nice to be around a club with so many guys that have so much experience in the game,” Happ told USA Today. “So I’m just going to keep soaking it up.”"

Last season, Happ split time between Class-A Advanced Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee. Between the two levels, he batted .279/.365/.445 in 567 plate appearances.

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With the Smokies, his performance waned. That being said, he was roughly three years younger than the average player in the league and still hit .262 in 65 games. He enters this season likely to spend time in Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. If he performs well, Happ may earn a September call-up to Chicago.

That’s Cub – Happ continues to stay positive

A lot of young players may be discouraged at such a situation. Despite being ranked as one of the best talents in baseball, there’s no clear path to the big league team. But, for Ian Happ, he’s thrilled for his organization.

"“It’s great. We have All-Stars at every position,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable time to be a part of this organization, to be able to be around so many guys that have had success in the game.”"

Happ knows that consistency is what separates minor league players from big leaguers. Last year against lefties, he struggled badly, hitting just .232 with the Smokies. He excelled, however, in the clutch, posting an OPS just shy of 1.000 in late/close situations, according to

The Chicago Cubs are high on Happ, too. For the time being, the organization is working to find a role for Happ. That seemed to be the case last season, as well, regarding Gleyber Torres.

But, as we know now, Torres headed to the Yankees in the deal that landed closer Aroldis Chapman, the missing piece in the Chicago bullpen.

Could Chicago trade Happ, as well?

2017 may be a repeat of the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship season. The entire starting rotation returns intact, minus Jason Hammel. The team controls the core group of position players for the rest of the decade – and at a reasonable cost.

It’s not this season that makes one wonder if a Happ trade could go down. It’s the increasingly blurry picture once this season ends.

Next winter, Jake Arrieta will test the open market. Barring injury or a significant drop-off, he’ll be seeking max dollars. And, to be blunt, it’s hard to see Theo Epstein overpay for a pitcher heading into his mid-30s.

Along with Arrieta, John Lackey is entering the last year of his contract. The right-hander turns 39 in October, so it seems likely this is the final ride for the Texan. That leaves two holes in the team’s 2018 starting rotation.

Rather than overpaying in dollars next offseason, the Chicago Cubs’ front office could go a different route: trading for a young, controllable arm and paying prospects rather than dollars.

Next: Questions for Chicago as they aim for a repeat

Happ represents a valuable trade chip for Epstein. He’s versatile and has a lot of pop in his bat. The former Cincinnati standout isn’t a blue chip prospect like Torres, but remains valuable.

Given he’s on a path that could be a very long road to Chicago, Ian Happ may very well be the next young prospect the front office turns into an answer to a looming question.