There is perhaps no Chicago Cubs player with more at stake this season than outfielder Ian Happ. A midseason non-tender candidate last year, the former first-rounder caught fire down the stretch and cemented his place in the team’s plans heading into 2022.
Since the season started three weeks ago, he’s hit the ground running and hasn’t looked back, carrying a .340/.446/.509 (180 OPS+) line into action on Thursday. A switch-hitter, Happ has really shown progress from the right side, evidenced by his .977 OPS on the still-young season.
In the past, it was pretty well-known Happ was stronger from the left side, but he’s shown much better balance in 2022 – and it’s paying off in major ways. Not only is he racking up the hits (only rookie sensation Seiya Suzuki has more hits on the team than Happ), but he also ranks in the top 10 percent of the league with a 15.4 percent walk rate.
Perhaps most notably, the swing-and-miss aspect of his game has dramatically improved, as well. He’s slashed his strikeout rate from 29.2 percent a year ago down to 16.9 percent – and he’s showed off a two-strike approach that includes a shorter, more compact swing while choking up on the bat, reminiscent of longtime Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Happ took Max Fried deep earlier this week for his second home run of the year and, really, there isn’t much he isn’t doing well right now. For a Cubs team looking for long-term solutions, it’s worth wondering if he could be that long-awaited position player the front office is finally able to lock up long-term.
Of course, it’ll take more than just a hot three weeks to open the season to convince Chicago such a move is in their best interest, but if Happ can maintain this refined approach long-term, his role on this team will dramatically shift in a hurry. It’s also worth noting he’s under team control through just next season – so barring a long-term extension, he’ll hit free agency heading into the 2024 campaign.
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That’s a concern for another day, though. Right now, it’s just nice to see Happ doing damage at the plate, looking more comfortable than ever before and leading the charge for the Cubs offensively.