Chicago Cubs: How quickly things have changed for Almora and Happ

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /

Albert Almora had a terrible Spring Training. Coupled with Ian Happ’s fantastic spring, it seemed that Almora had lost the starting center field job and was going to be on the outside looking in for playing time.

The flexibility of the Chicago Cubs position players has been talked about at length. But I’ve also noticed that Joe Maddon likes to try to minimize moving a player around unnecessarily, especially for his best players. For instance not only does Kris Bryant rarely play in the outfield anymore, but he had to borrow an outfield glove when he made a surprise start in the outfield for this weekends’ series against the Rockies.

There were early signs that Maddon was thinking that he was going to treat Happ similarly this season. Before the season began Maddon was openly talking about possibly not using Happ in the infield.

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Time for a change

There was also a game earlier this season when Almora was brought into the game late, a game that Happ had started in center field. In the past when Almora and Happ were playing in the outfield at the same time, Almora would play center field and Happ would play one of the corner positions.

But on this occasion Happ stayed in center field. Perhaps Maddon had another reason for doing so. But it looked like a signal that Maddon had at that point mentally thought Happ had claimed that starting leadoff spot and the center field job that sort of came with it.

Constantly struggling

However, since opening day everyone knows that Ian Happ has been struggling by striking out at an alarming rate (25 in his first 54 at bats this season). Happ was kept in the starting lineup and at the top of the order for a while to work his way out of this particular funk. However, he has yet to make the necessary adjustment. The hope that Happ would claim sole possession of the leadoff spot has evaporated.

Then this weekend Almora had a great series against Colorado. He started all three games at the top of the order and in center field. Only one of those games was against a left handed starting pitcher. On Friday alone Almora went 4-for-6, which raised his batting average from .265 to .325. On Saturday he went 2-for-3, which raised his batting average to an even higher .349. And on Sunday after Almora put together a highlight reel of defensive plays in center field, Cubs announcer Jim Deshaies said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a center fielder play a better game.”

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Now Almora may claim the starting center field job for a while. Almora may also continue to hit in the leadoff spot. However, I doubt that the future of those spots is as simple as Almora for the rest of the season. This weekend may just have been a hot streak for Almora. Heyward will continue to play some center field. Zobrist may get some at-bats at the top of the order when he gets off the disabled list.

And I doubt this is the end of Happ as both the Cubs leadoff hitter and center fielder. Happ seems to have a knack for being bouncing back and forth between being the odd man out or the solution to the Cubs lineup.