I guarantee Ian Happ is making things difficult for the Cubs right now. In a good way. But still difficult.
When the Cubs called up the 22-year-old AAA prospect over this past weekend, it was of course in recognition of his rapid development since being drafted in June 2015, but it was also in recognition of the Cubs’ severe needs on the roster.
At the time of the call-up, the following players were officially injured, partially unavailable, or potentially unavailable: Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, and Jon Jay. That’s more guys potentially out than the Cubs even had on the bench, so a body was needed just to ensure the Cubs could field a full lineup.
In the ensuing days, those guys trickled back into the available category, with Heyward now the only one officially still totally unavailable (he’s on the DL, and could be back later this week).
Right now, it is Heyward’s absence that ensures there’s a spot in the lineup – in one configuration or another – for Happ so long as he keeps playing like he is. But what happens when Heyward returns? Surely Happ could be acommodated on the 25-man roster, but will there be enough regular starts to go around for everyone? Consider that, when Happ starts after Heyward returns, at least two of Ben Zobrist, Javy Baez, and Albert Almora have to sit (or some combination of other regulars). Is that best for the Cubs? Is that best for Happ?
I don’t ask those questions rhetorically. I could see the benefit on all sides of (a) figuring out a way to keep Happ up with the big league team, and scrambling to find starts for everyone with constant rotating; or (b) letting Happ continue to get regular starts at Iowa, working on his defense at multiple spots, and then coming back up when there’s a more consistent need (it always happens at some point).
For now, Happ will keep starting while he’s up – Joe Maddon even said immediately after last night’s game that, yes, Happ will start again today (Rogers).
How could you sit this guy? Not just the results he’s getting in a small sample (.400/.538/1.100, 23.8% BB rate, 23.8% K rate, two homers, including another last night), but the way he’s conducting himself: completely unassuming, confident and calm, not affected by the moment (in the game, or in his debut at a historic stadium in front of 40,000 screaming fans). Happ was the same way in Spring Training.
He looks like he belongs.
It’s been three games, so I don’t want to go too crazy. We’ve seen guys come up scorching and confident (scorch-ness breeds confidence, after all). If Happ stays up, he’ll go through periods of struggle, like everyone. But for now, he’ll start again tonight, and the Cubs will have to take it from there with a difficult decision in the coming days.
I hope Happ makes the decision even harder tonight.