Let’s this straight first; Ian Happ is not Kris Bryant. Also, he is not Kyle Schwarber. Ian Happ is Ian Happ. One cannot simply hang expectations on Mr. Happ as a result of the productivity of Schwarber and Bryant and their track records in the minors. Ian is not going to advance faster just because he is a first round pick. When he is ready, he will move.
Last summer, I got to see Ian play several times as a South Bend Cub. He played a mixture of all three outfield spots. He is intense. The look on his face doesn’t change much. What else doesn’t change much is his swing. Whether he is batting right handed or left handed, the number one thing I love about Happ’s swing is how his hands come through the zone. He may not have Popeye forearms, but they are strong and project to more power than he showed in his short summer of 2015.
In addition, he’s pretty fast. In the months leading up to the draft, only his power profile was played up. He plays hard, and like Kris Bryant, he’s a very good baserunner.
I think we will see a different Ian Happ in 2016 than the one we saw last summer.
What many did not know about Happ last summer was that his father was fighting brain cancer, a battle his father lost in the fall. That kind of stress has to take a toll on you at just 20 years old.
When Happ signed last summer out of the University of Cincinnati, Happ was assigned to short season Eugene. He spent exactly a month in Oregon playing. His average fluctuated greatly. He began strong and then plummeted to down into the .230s before surging back up to .281 when he was promoted. In the meantime, Happ hit 4 HRs with 11 RBIs and took an amazing 23 walks in 29 games at Eugene. Needless to say, that after two homers in his first weekend, he was pitched around quite a bit.
At South Bend, Happ spent just six weeks in low A. He struck out 39 times in 38 games but hit 5 HRs with 22 RBIs. I got see him in Beloit and came away extremely impressed with his demeanor, speed, athleticism, intensity, and plate approach.
2016 will find Happ likely starting at second base at high A Myrtle Beach. It will be a challenging year for him for several reasons.
- The Carolina League is a pitcher’s league. Last year, Cubs’ prospect Chesny Young finished 24 points higher than the second best hitter in the league. Young hit only .321. For Happ, I think .270-.280 would be a nice range to find him.
- He is not going to hit a lot of home runs in the league. Games along the coast are notorious for keeping the ball down. 15-20 HRs would be an outstanding season. Last season’s Carolina League leader Nellie Rodriguez hit a whopping 17 to lead the league. I think the key for Happ is to try not to do too much and continue the plate discipline he established last year at Eugene and South Bend.
- He will be playing a position he rarely has played, even in his freshman year at college. What Happ does have is deceptive athleticism. I was impressed with his speed on the base paths and in the outfield. The move to second base should be challenging in the sense that he has to learn new footwork. Instinctively, Happ has all the qualifications needed to play second base, but he will make mistakes. You need to forgive him now. Then again, don’t be surprised to see him make some extremely athletic plays because he is, after all, a great athlete.
- Because of the position change, I would expect Happ to remain at Myrtle Beach all year. If second base is to be his position of the future, then he should be there all year.
- However, if he plays all over the field and not just second, he could move quicker if his bat and approach are too advanced.
- The bat is really going to be the focus. Because he does switch hit, there is a concern that one side could lag behind the other. Last year, at Eugene, he destroyed lefties .350 with a .480 OBP. At South Bend against lefties, he hit .188 in only 32 at bats. It will be interesting to see his splits this year.
- I don’t think his athleticism gets enough credit and that Happ is truly a great athlete. He plays with great intensity in all facets of the game and I don’t think this part of his game gets enough credit and some just focus on his power.
As a first round selection, much is expected from Happ from Cubs fans. Don’t expect him to be like Schwarber and Bryant because he is not. He is his own player. He has his own style of play at the plate, on the bases, and in the field. He is a baseball player through and through. Appreciate him for who he is and who he will be. And in due time, that will be an extremely well-rounded player.
I took this picture of Ian along the sidelines before a game. He’s quite intense, even signing autographs.