Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ impressing in bid for leadoff job
By Tim Stebbins
While the sample size is small, Ian Happ has been impressive in his stints batting leadoff for the Chicago Cubs this spring.
The race for the Chicago Cubs’ leadoff job is on, and Ian Happ is off to a fast start.
Happ, 23, has batted first in all three of the games he has appeared in this spring. Including Tuesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox, Happ is 4-for-7 with two home runs and three RBIs.
Happ has hit leadoff home runs in consecutive games, with one coming against San Francisco Giants’ ace Madison Bumgarner. Tuesday’s long ball came against White Sox right-hander Carson Fulmer, giving Happ one from both sides of the plate.
Revolving door at the top?
Like 2017, the Cubs’ leadoff position in 2018 will be interesting since there is not one definite candidate. Of course, the Cubs batted all sorts of players at leadoff in 2017, including slugger Anthony Rizzo.
Because of their depth (specifically outfield depth), the team’s leadoff hitter will depend on various factors. Which player has the hot hand, pitching matchups and needing to rest players could make the job a revolving door.
In the two games that Happ has not played in this spring, Albert Almora has seized the leadoff position. He has been less successful, though, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts (Happ has struck out just once).
Spring performance not a sign for regular season
Ultimately, both players’ sample sizes batting first this spring are small. For all anyone knows, Happ could struggle in his next game, and Almora could put on a show.
Furthermore, there is no telling how Happ and Almora will fare in the regular season batting leadoff. Spring training is not a good determinant for an entire season’s worth of success, after all.
One thing is for certain, however: Happ is starting off 2018 with where he left off in 2017. Happ hit 23 home runs in just 115 games last season; his .514 slugging percentage would have ranked 31st had he qualified.
Cut down on the K’s
Power is not everything, of course, especially when it comes to players leading off. Happ must continue to make strides at the plate and cut down on his strikeout totals.
Happ’s 129 strikeouts (in 364 at-bats) were third-most on the Cubs. Javier Báez struck out 144 times in 145 games in 2017, second most on the Cubs.
Next: Cubs deliver on offseason plan
The Cubs have an interesting decision to make for 2018 regarding its leadoff hitter. Time will tell which player(s) are given the first chance to make their mark at the top of the order.