The Chicago Cubs have experienced quite the year in 2016. The big league club won the World Series for the first time since 1908, ending the ‘Curse of the Billy Goat’ and freeing Steve Bartman from exile.
Rizzo was further honored as the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year at first base, and he also won a Silver Slugger Award.
Kyle Hendricks was honored by his peers with the Players Choice Award as Outstanding National League Pitcher.
HAPP TAKES OVER THE AFL TITLE GAME
Tremendous performances didn’t end at the big league level. On Thursday night, Cubs prospect Ian Happ led the Mesa Solar Sox to the Arizona Fall League championship, homering twice in a 6-1 win over the host Surprise Saguaros.
Happ went 4-4 in the game, with the versatile switch-hitter’s two home runs coming from each side of the plate.
“First time in my whole life I’ve done that from both sides,” said Happ per MLB.com’s Mike Rosenbaum. “I’m normally hacking when I hit from the left side and then go righty, but that was awesome.”
SCOUTING REPORTS ON HAPP
MLB Pipeline ranks Happ, the ninth overall pick in the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Cincinnati, as the top prospect in the Cubs farm system.
Happ is also ranked as the 21st best prospect in all of baseball. His MLB scouting report reads as follows:
“There isn’t much that Happ can’t do offensively. A switch-hitter, he exhibits a quick stroke and good balance from both sides of the plate, and he owns deceptive strength and solid speed. Happ should post high batting averages and on-base percentages, and he has the upside of a 20-20 player.
Happ is a good athlete with a strong arm, and Chicago will try to maximize his value by playing him at second base in 2016 after he spent instructional league there. He played mostly second base as a college freshman, but he lacked smooth infield actions and shifted to the outfield, and he also saw action at all three outfield spots in his pro debut. As with Schwarber, the Cubs will have to balance expediting Happ’s impact bat to the big leagues with developing him at a more challenging position.”
Happ turned 22-years old back in August. He split the 2016 season evenly between High-A Myrtle Beach and AAA Tennessee.
Combined between the two stops, the Pittsburgh, PA native hit for a .279/.365/.445 slash line with 15 homers, 30 doubles, 73 RBI, 72 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases in 567 plate appearances over 134 games.
Happ’s versatility has demonstrated with solid showings at both second base and in left field. He played in 92 games at the keystone in 2016 and another 13 out in left.
“He’s a special hitter as he showed today, and the fact that he’s been able to step in and play left field for us the last couple days was good to see — he made a great play out there today,” said Ryan Christenson, Happ’s fall league manager at Mesa.
In looking to the future, the Cubs will surely find a place for him when he is fully ready. The team already has Baez, who is about to turn 24 years old, at second base. 24-year old Jorge Solerand 22-year old Albert Almora probably have left and center fields tied up in the short-term.
There is an old adage that these things tend to work themselves out. Trades and injuries sometimes open a path. Sometimes a player simply outperforms another.
Happ will open the 2017 season with a trip to spring training, and will likely begin the year at AAA Iowa, where he will hone his game while the Cubs try to make a final determination on his best regular position.
One thing appears certain. Whenever Ian Happ is ready, the world champion Chicago Cubs will make a place for him. Just one more jewel in a treasure chest of embarrassing riches for the organization.