It’s a small sample size, but the former University of Cincinnati Bearcat has made a fine case for the Cubs to keep him in the majors.
The Cubs look like they are starting to get things together. After a rough couple of weeks, they’re beginning to faintly resemble the championship club from 2016. A big part of the Cubs’ recent success is their number two prospect, Ian Happ.
Originally drafted as a second baseman, Happ has been cross-trained to become the second coming of Ben Zobrist. The switch-hitting infielder by trade has not once started a game at his natural position since being called up (thanks to the Wizard of Puerto Rico Javy Baez). He debuted in right field and then proceeded to clobber his first MLB hit for a two-run homer off of up-and-coming Cub-killer Carlos Martinez. In his first game at Wrigley Field, Happ homered again, this time sending an outside pitch into the bleachers for an impressive opposite-field dinger. In the same game, he drew a crucial bases-loaded walk and has made a fine defensive play as well.
In just five games, Happ is hitting a solid .353 with two homers, and 4 RBI with an on-base percentage of .500. On top of those numbers, Happ has struck out as many times as he’s walked with five of each. For a 22-year-old, he’s shown tremendous poise at the plate and in the outfield. More importantly, he’s leaps and bounds ahead of where he was just one year ago.
At this time last year, Happ was the everyday second baseman for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Cubs’ Class-A Advanced affiliate of the Carolina League. The young prospect was hitting a mere .266 with the Pelicans before his club came to Lynchburg, Virginia. I had the chance to witness Happ in person, and he didn’t disappoint. He had a .333 batting average with a triple and 3 RBI in the four-game series against the Hillcats. He started one game in left field and the rest at second base. From the moment I personally watched him, it was apparent to me that the Cubs never planned on letting Happ get too comfortable in the infield. He shagged flies from his coaches in the outfield and practiced defending against runners tagging up on fly balls.
So far in Chicago, Happ has been parlaying those skills he learned in the minors quite nicely. His versatility, coupled with a healthy Ben Zobrist and Happ’s switch-hittting ability, makes it clear in my mind that Happ should stay put. Tommy La Stella is a solid backup infielder, but he can’t match the Pittsburgh native Happ in terms of power and defensive skills.
No one other than Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer knows for sure whether Happ will remain with the big club or go back to Iowa. But if it were my choice, I’d keep him right where he is. He’s certainly earned it.