HAPPY DAYS ARE AHEAD

Mad­don says prospect could join Cubs this sea­son

Chicago Sun-Times - - CUBSBEAT - GOR­DON WITTENMYER Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ GDubCub. Email: gwit­ten­myer@sun­times.com

MESA, Ariz. — Not even Ian Happ can en­vi­sion the sce­nario that would make it hap­pen. Or even what po­si­tion he might play.

But he be­lieves he’ll be ready to keep the Cubs’ freight train of hit­ting prospects rolling to the ma­jor leagues this year.

“I’m ex­cited for the op­por­tu­nity to help this ball­club in any way I can,” said Happ, the No. 9 over­all pick in the 2015 draft. “I’m en­joy­ing be­ing ver­sa­tile and be­ing able to play mul­ti­ple po­si­tions and just try­ing to take every op­por­tu­nity I can to help the team.”

Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don not only has been im­pressed with the switch­hit­ting Happ in his first big- league camp but said he could be in the Cubs’ plans this sea­son.

“It’s up to him. Right now he looks great,” Mad­don said. “He’s go­ing to have to go out and play. He is in the con­ver­sa­tion. Now it’s up to him to go out there and per­form at a level that in­di­cates that he’s ready right now.”

This is where the ver­sa­til­ity comes in. The Cubs are loaded with young play­ers at every po­si­tion, in­clud­ing ul­tra-ver­sa­tile Javy Baez, who doesn’t even have a start­ing job as the sea­son opens.

“It’s al­most like there’s an All- Star at every po­si­tion,” said Happ, who with a few more at- bats would qual­ify among the league’s spring hit­ting lead­ers.

“The bat plays,” Mad­don said. “And if the bat’s play­ing and he’s ready, and you don’t have a need at his po­si­tion, what do you do? You just don’t bring him up be­cause he’s not this or ‘ We’re cov­ered there; we don’t need him.’ If the bat’s ready and you have a [ hit­ter] spot, let’s be able to put this guy in that spot, if he can, if he’s an ath­lete.”

Happ, an All- Amer­i­can at the Univer­sity of Cincin­nati, played all three out­field spots his first sea­son in the mi­nors and mostly sec­ond base last year.

“I’d be cu­ri­ous to see what he looks like at third base at some point. Even first base,” said Mad­don, who added mi­nor­league in­struc­tors “rave about him in the out­field.”

Scouts rave about his bat but not his glove. He’s not above av­er­age at any spot he has played, and some say he’s be­low av­er­age in the cor­ner out­field spots.

Happ, 22, just keeps work­ing to put him­self in po­si­tion — lit­er­ally any po­si­tion.

“With this or­ga­ni­za­tion, with this team, es­pe­cially the way that Joe man­ages, you’ve got to be able to play a bunch of po­si­tions,” he said. “I’m try­ing to play as many spots as I can and be able to fit in wher­ever I can.”

If any­thing, the front of­fice is look­ing for ways to fit more young play­ers from the sys­tem into the big- league mix, even after break­ing in Kris Bryant, Ad­di­son Rus­sell, Kyle Sch­war­ber, Will­son Con­tr­eras and Al­bert Almora Jr. the last two years.

“I think the Braves did such a great job dur­ing their run [ 1991- 2005] of al­ways break­ing in a guy every year, try­ing to add new blood every sin­gle year,” gen­eral man­ager Jed Hoyer said. “Young guys are great even for a vet­eran team be­cause they pro­vide the spark. They pro­vide new en­ergy.”

Almora, still a rookie, gets a shot this year to claim the lion’s share of the cen­ter- field job. Could Happ be next?

Is the pres­sure on to keep the train rolling? And to prove some­thing at a high level once he gets the call?

“I think it’s al­most the op­po­site of [ pres­sure],” Happ said. “This team is so good and the lineup is so good that there isn’t any pres­sure be­cause it’s not on one guy’s shoul­ders. On any day, any­body on the team could be the hero.

“Man, it makes the game a lot eas­ier when you’re sur­rounded by great play­ers that are go­ing to have suc­cess.”

| JOHN ANTONOFF/ FOR THE SUN- TIMES

Ian Happ, the ninth pick in the 2015 draft, has been lauded for his hit­ting, but his de­fense has re­ceived mixed re­views.

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