Despite mixed results in his first big-league stint, Chicago Cubs rookie Ian Happ is proving on a near-daily basis he belongs with the team.
Coming into the season, there were many questions surrounding the Chicago Cubs. Would they repeat their historic 2016 performance? Which prospects would arrive on the North Side as reinforcements? Consider both questions answered – at least for the time being.
That being said, the addition of Ian Happ proved to be the right move. There is no question that his versatility fits the philosophy of manager Joe Maddon. Coming into the fold as a second baseman, Happ’s performance as an outfielder is refreshing. With the struggling Kyle Schwarber, back in the minors, his value only increased lately.
Same old story
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Let me know if you have heard this before. A top-rated prospect gets called up and homers in his first game. Several players earned such an honor. It seemed that Happ was ready to take the league by storm.
In his first nine games, MLB’s #21 prospect hit for a .323/.417/.710 slash-line, including four doubles, a triple and two home runs. And, he scored eight times. Not a bad start.
Then, the decline started.
By June 14, Happ’s average hit a season-low .207. He did have six home runs by that time, though he suffered a 16-game power drought. It was a tough patch of time for the rookie, and for the team. Injuries, struggles and inconsistency dominated the team’s storyline, and kept Happ on the roster.
As he struggled to make contact, opposing pitchers saw opportunity. During the period from May 24 to June 14, Happ struckout 27 times. In the 12-3 win versus the New York Mets, Happ hit a grand slam and struck out four times.
Since June 14, Happ played in 10 games. His slash-line is now .264/.343/.592. In all but one game, he recorded a hit, including four multi-hit games. One game saw Happ notch four hits. He scored seven runs, knocked in eight and played solid defense at all three outfield positions and second base. The rookie committed one error all season. That is impressive considering the concern over his defense and the overall play of the team.
The league made adjustments on Happ, and he responded. Like many other Chicago Cubs players, Happ is aggressive early in the count. He hit eight of his 10 home runs on the first pitch or an 0-1 count. However, the further in the count pitchers pushed, the worse Happ performed. When a pitcher is ahead in the count, Happ hits for a .196 average.
However, when runners are in scoring position, Happ excels, batting .280 on the year. On a team where hitting with runners on second or third is an issue, this is critical.