Cubs News: Assessing the center field picture behind Ian Happ

The Cubs will go with Ian Happ in center. But where do they go from there?

I have to admit, the Chicago Cubs center field job belongs to Ian Happ -hands down. In 57 games, he posted a slash line of .258/.361/.505/.866 with an OPS+ of 131, the highest of his short career.

He had a wOBA of .369 and a wRC+ of 131. Plus, he had an exit velocity of 91.1 MPH. He was down a peg from his high-water mark for average (.264 to .258), but he’s comfortable with that, especially with his power showing.  In 2018, he hit 15 home runs in 142 games. This year, he hit a dozen in just 57 contests.

So who’s on the list as far as a backup? Well, to be honest, no one. Albert Almora could be a non-tender candidate in 2021. In 28 games, he slashed a .167/.265/.200 with zero home runs, which led to the team optioning him to South Bend.

Almora has never really reached his full potential – with one exception. In 2017, he slashed a fantastic .298/.338/.445 with an OPS+ of 100. Since then, he’s gone downhill in a hurry, ending up with an OPS+ of 29 in 2020.

The Cubs’ Nico Hoerner is a different case. He’s a second baseman by trade, but he’s listed as a ‘backup’ for center field. Should he get his ‘time in the minors’? Not so fast, my friend. He hit a paltry  .222, but didn’t everybody this year? He hit three home runs last year in 20 games, zero in 48 games in 2020. But, again, that’s not his game. He’s a contact hitter. His walk rate was 9.5 percent and his strikeout rate was 19% ( in 2019, he clocked in at 3.7 and 13.4 percent, respectively.)

If I were the Cubs, I’d bring back Billy Hamilton. He plays all outfield spots and is a top-notch fielder. You sign him to a one-year deal, and boom, you’re set up for 2021. Now, a backup’s backup? Beats me. Perhaps Jon Jay? He hit .296 in 141 games in his only season with the Cubs.

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Whichever route they pursue, they’ll be solid. Happ is ready to build on his strong 2020 showing and adding a veteran like Hamilton or Jay brings veteran depth. Outside of center, then you start talking about Kyle Schwarber and left field, and if he’s a good fit. And to be honest, I don’t want to discuss that. Leave that for the season.