It’s inevitable and unfair that the most recent first round Chicago Cubs draft pick, Ian Happ, will be compared to the two who preceded him. Happ, selected at 9th overall in a draft crop thought by many to be weaker than the last two years, was considered by many the best overall college bat in the draft, not unlike Kyle Schwarber (4th overall in 2014) and Kris Bryant (2nd overall in 2013). Questions about where he will play defensively persist – just as they did for Schwarber and Bryant – but few doubt the potential future for Happ’s bat (again, just as with Schwarber and Bryant).
Each of Schwarber and Bryant rose meteorically through the Cubs’ farm system, with each reaching the big leagues this year. That, of course, is where the “unfair” part comes in. To expect that kind of rise from Happ, who is an individual on his own player development path, would be unfair. It’s not impossible or even implausible, but I do think it’s important to point out that each of Schwarber and Bryant were projected to have better bats down the road at the time they were drafted than Happ is now, and they also exceeded already-lofty expectations. Happ’s a great prospect with huge upside; but just let Happ be Happ.
All that said, his performance this weekend in his professional debut won’t help make those comparisons go away anytime soon.
In his first three games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs’ Low-A short-season affiliate in the Northwest League, Happ has 4 hits in 13 at bats, 2 of which were homers and one of which was a double. The switch-hitter has struck out three times and walked twice. It’s really still too early to even look at a slash line, but it still makes me chuckle: .308/.400/.846.
Ultimately, while the performance is fantastic, it’s what you’d hope to see from an experienced college bat – one of the best in the country, if not the best – facing young pitching prospects, many of whom were in high school just last year.
Then again, one of his two homers this weekend came off of Hisashi Iwakuma, the rehabbing Mariners righty. Another “then again”: Happ doesn’t turn 21 until August, putting him on the younger side for college juniors.
You can read Happ’s thoughts on his professional debut here, and I look forward to following his progress. Not unlike Schwarber and Bryant, if Happ keeps this up much longer, his stay in the Northwest League will be very short.
Defensively, Happ has started in center field in all three games, and Jed Hoyer told MLB Network (via CCO) that he’ll continue to play in the outfield the rest of this season. After the organized games are completed, Happ will go to the Instructional League in Arizona and work on second base, Hoyer said. Presumably, the Cubs want to let Happ get used to pro ball before working too hard on his defensive position. They’ll see what he’s able to do in instructionals, and then go from there. The bat projects to play wherever he winds up, but obviously if he’s able to stick at second or in center field, that would make him all the more valuable.