In a season where our attention has been rightfully drawn towards Chicago (and away from the Minors), Cubs prospects continue to do impressive things while having meaningful seasons down on the farm.
Not all meaningful seasons have to necessarily be great seasons, mind you, but they can still be significant (with a couple of nice moments sprinkled in) nonetheless.
Ian Happ, for example, is having somewhat of an up and down season – raking early, getting a promotion, raking again, before going into something of a slump (we’ll get more specific in a moment) at Double-A lately. But that doesn’t mean his season hasn’t been very important developmentally and that certainly doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some fun in between.
Last night, for example, Happ, who just turned 22 earlier this month, hit the go-ahead three-run home run to left field in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Smokies the lead and ultimately the win:
That homer was Happ’s 13th of the season overall, but just his sixth with the Smokies, underscoring the dichotomy of his 2016 as a whole. At the beginning of the year, Happ – the Cubs first round draft pick in 2015 – began his season with the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans. There, he destroyed High-A pitching, while displaying the type of advanced, polished approach at the plate you’d expect from a first-round college bat. Through just under 300 plate appearances, Happ slashed .296/.410/.475 with a 16.4% walk rate and a 23.5% strikeout rate.
He was promptly promoted to Double-A Tennessee.
Upon reaching Double-A, Happ continued to hit. Actually, that’s an understatement. Happ destroyed Double-A pitching upon his promotion. In his first 14 games (57 plate appearances), Happ slashed .440/.474/.660 with an admittedly low walk rate (7.0%), but a very low strikeout rate (10.5%) as well. Since then, however, Happ has slashed just .206/.275/.318, while watching his strikeout rate balloon back up to roughly 25.0% in 189 plate appearances. Overall, during his first trip through Double-A, then, Happ is hitting .259/.321/.395 with six homers and five stolen bases.
But that doesn’t mean you should be disappointed in his season.
Happ may not have the pedigree, production, or projections of some former Cubs prospects like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, or Willson Contreras (sorry for the long list – it’s just so fun to see all their names in one spot), but that doesn’t mean he can’t still be a valuable member of the organization in one way or another. Let’s also keep in mind that he was getting in heavy work at second base this year after being in the outfield last year.
And to take things further, just because he isn’t destroying the upper Minors (during his first full professional season, no less), doesn’t mean he can’t one day get there.
All in all, this was a very big, productive, and impressive season from Happ – not many guys reach Double-A at all, let alone in their first full season – and next year figures to be even bigger. In all likelihood, Happ will begin the 2017 season at Double-A Tennessee with some experience and success under his belt and a real shot of reaching Triple-A (and even the Majors) before the season is over. That’s the groundwork he’s laid this season, that’s the significance of a rollercoaster year, and that’s the potentially positive future for an exciting, young, switch-hitting, patient, Cubs infield/outfield prospect.
What’s not to like?