HAPPY DAYS ARE AHEAD
Maddon says prospect could join Cubs this season
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.”
Ian Happ, the ninth pick in the 2015 draft, has been lauded for his hitting, but his defense has received mixed reviews.