Paving a Path for Ian Happ
Before I get to the good stuff, some quick notes about some personal achievement since the last time you’ve heard from me. Since my last post, I have started my first adult job post-graduation, so I’ve been doing my best to get used to the 9-5 grind. Moving away from my nocturnal college lifestyle has been a bit challenging (Did you guys know things happen before noon? Crazy!). With all this happening just before pitchers and catchers reported, I’ll admit I haven’t been able to keep up with the World Champion’s (or any of those 29 lessor teams) as much as I would like/have in the past. Nonetheless, I am working the greatest game on dirt back into my daily routine and hope to be in midseason fan form come opening day!
I have a couple thoughts about some of the things I have been seeing, hearing, and reading regarding the Cubs. So let’s get into some baseball and the player who seems to be turning the most heads this March, 2015 First-Rounder, Ian Happ. Rumor has it, the guy can handle himself in both batter’s boxes and so far, it shows. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the Cubs recent success drafting and developing college hitters. Since 2011, the first round has been very good to the Cubs (shout out to Jim Hendry for Javy Baez) and not to get too ahead of myself, but it is looking as if Happ is progressing down that same path. The questions now, as with every prospect, is where and when?
Ian was drafted, and is listed on MiLB as a second baseman. His time in the minors has been split almost evenly between second (780.2 innings) and the outfield (726.0 innings). If we break it down even further we see the majority of his outfield innings have come in center (337.0), followed by left (233.0) and right (156.0). It is interesting to note though that most of his outfield experience has come in the various levels of single-A. He has only logged 141.1 outfield innings in AA, which is as far as he has reached to this point. Going forward, it will be interesting to see where they have him focusing his time when he reaches AAA. In my unprofessional opinion, I think he starts the season with AA but make a quick move to AAA where he will spend the rest of the season, barring any injuries (fingers crossed) or call-ups to the majors (a long shot). I have no rhyme or reason to that prediction, its simply how I see the Cubs handling the 22-year-old’s mental and physical development. So what’s ahead for the young man? he says about the kid whom is only 8 months his minor.
Theo Epstein has some of the most unique “problems” of any working man in the world. Topping the list of things he loves to lose sleep over is, by my guess, “what are we going to do with all the the young controlled talent we have in the minors that is currently being blocked by the young controlled talent in the majors”. Assuming Ian is destined to be a major league second baseman, it is tough to see the Cubs parting ways with the current international star on the rise, Javier Baez, and his magic hands of silk. The only way a second base gig opens is if Javy becomes too expensive for the Cubs pockets. This however seems unlikely, since the Cubs and Wrigley Field are a living breathing goldmine. Tickets, concessions, and appeal have always and will always sell. Where Tom Rickets is cashing in biggest is still on the horizon. Wrigley will be the city’s busiest concert venue this summer, an Octillion dollar TV deal is on its way, and the neighborhood is adding a luxury hotel and apartment complex. I say it’s safe to assume money won’t be an issue, but I’ve digressed. Point is, Javy is no longer the go to “trade for pitching” scapegoat. I see Javy as the second baseman for many years to come, so when and if Ian Happ cracks the 25-man roster, it will be as an outfielder.
As far as 2017 is concerned, things are looking tight and there are a ton of variables for these three spots (Beyond 2017 isn’t any less complicated). If we are to see Happ in the mix this year, other than a “break glass in case of emergency” situation, my guess is that it won’t be until September. As I mentioned before, he has experience at all the three spots, mainly during his time in single-A, with center field leading the way. As he progresses through the system I would expect his current trend to stay pretty much the same. The reason I think this is how they will handle Ian’s outfield development is based on the options the Cubs have for their outfield of the future. As it stands, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora are being molded into the left and center fielders for year(s) to come, and Jason Heyward is Cubs property until 2023, assuming he does not opt out. Here is how I see Ian Happ fitting in:
His quickest way to the Cubs, and the reason I think he is seeing a lot of time in center, is because he is a backup plan to Albert Almora. Not everyone pans out. Albert certainly has the IQ and defense, but if the hitting doesn’t come around there are other options on the farm, Happ being the next in line. Heyward could slide to center if Almora doesn’t pan out, but you don’t pay a gold glove right fielder that much to play out of position. Long term, the Cubs are looking for a true center fielder. Honestly, I see Albert taking the starting CF spot, and Happ as more of a left fielder.
Kyle Schwarber lost a lot of National League value after his 2016 injury. Being able to put his bat behind the plate is where the Cubs were going to get the biggest return. This would have allowed them to put a natural/athletic outfielder in left field. Now I am not completely counting out the idea that Kyle emerges as a serviceable left fielder, he has proven himself as one of the hardest working men in the game today. However, there is no doubting his value to an American league team as a designated hitter. I don’t see the Cubs holding out all the way until 2021 for a chance at a DH when the next collective bargaining agreement is being negotiated. The way I see it, Kyle Schwarber is the Cubs primary left fielder until Eloy Jimenez is Major League ready. Kyle will then be traded for a young cost controlled frontend rotation arm. I don’t see this happening for a couple more seasons, but I do see it in their future.
Now you may be asking, “I thought this was an article about Ian Happ, where the hell did Eloy come in to play?” Eloy is only 20 years old, being groomed by development to play the outfield, where he already has baseball experience. For that I think he gets the job over converted second baseman Happ. Where I see Ian getting his shot is if Jason Heyward is no longer with the Cubs. The outfield in that case, from left to right, would be Happ, Almora, Jimenez.
Ian’s quickest path to the major leagues, however, is not with the Cubs. If you ask me (and I know you didn’t but here I am writing about it) Ian takes Javy’s role as the go to “trade for pitching” prospect. A package built around Ian Happ and Jeimer Candelario could rebuild a broken infield with young and versatile talent.
The need for young pitching is undeniable, it is just a matter of who will be sent off to bring it back? Who do you think it is and why? There are a ton of variables that play into where these players will end up. Let me hear your thoughts on the guys I have mentioned here.