Cubs need Ian Happ to put up big-time numbers next season

(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs need Ian Happ to build on 2020 and to have a big 2021 season.

The Chicago Cubs drafted Ian Happ in the first round, ninth overall, in the 2015 amateur draft out of the University of Cincinnati and he quickly ascended to make his Major League debut early in 2017. When discussing the big names on the team that are important to their success, Happ has often been overlooked in the past few years. However, he will be as critical to the team’s success as anyone in 2021.

Happ, who will turn 27 next season, was a big reason why the team won the National League Central division in 2020. He finished 18th in NL MVP voting after posting an .866 OPS and belting 12 home runs in 57 games, hitting primarily out of the leadoff spot. In a year in which so many big names struggled, including Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber, Happ thrived for the majority of the season.

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Happ carried a strong finish to 2019 into 2020, and as late as September 5 he had an OPS of 1.113. One reason Happ was so successful was his ability to draw walks, something that he has always been able to do at the big league level, even when he wasn’t hitting as well as we would have liked. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts – he whiffed 63 times this past season – but he also drew 30 free passes.

However, he struggled during the final 19 games of the season, batting just .153 with a .427 OPS, without a home run. After it looked like he was a legitimate MVP candidate for much of the season, his numbers went downhill in a hurry over the final few weeks.

Neither Happ’s early-season success nor his late-season struggles seem to have been discussed very much this offseason, as Cubs talk has been dominated largely by trade rumors involving many other names. However, especially now that Schwarber has departed, it is essential that Happ get back on track next year in order for the Cubs to be a contender.

The Cubs still need a left fielder for next season, but Happ proved last year that he could play a decent center field and there’s no reason to move him over to left at this point, especially since that would then create a hole in center. The team will need solid defense, to go along with his bat, next year.

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Ian Happ deserves a lot of credit for the progress he made this past year. However, his late-season struggles showed that there’s still work left to be done. Hopefully, he can build on the success he had for the majority of 2020 and be a star for the team in 2021.