I thought it would be a wee bit disingenuous to claim that Ian Happ was straight-up being named the Cubs leadoff hitter. He’s not. At least not right now.
In fact, in all likelihood, we’ll see a bunch of guys in that spot as the early-season rolls on, because that’s just the way Joe Maddon operates *and* it’s the nature of this particular roster.
With all of that said … yeah, Happ has kinda sorta basically pretty much won the Cubs leadoff man job.
“You’ll probably see him there a bit,” manager Joe Maddon told the Sun-Times. “I haven’t finalized anything, but [it’s] a combination of what we thought in the beginning, and then he went out and grabbed it and has gotten better.”
Maddon went on to say that Happ has clearly proven that he’s both capable of leading off for the Cubs and that really wants to, and added that not naming a leadoff hitter here is kind of like not naming a closer when you go closer-by-committee. One of the guys will still be more “the guy” than the other guys.
Of course, although it’s not a primary factor, it doesn’t hurt that his main competition for the job – Albert Almora (.604 OPS), Jason Heyward (.671 OPS), and Ben Zobrist (.603 OPS) – have had some of the worst springs for the Cubs offensively.
For his part, Happ sounds ready for it (Sun-Times): “It’s exciting. I’ve felt really comfortable there all spring, and I’m really enjoying the role. I’m excited to get to the season and start getting on base for these guys for real.”
Happ added that his goal was to play every day, and, thanks to his ability to play multiple position, it just so happens that leading off might help cement him more into an every day role, rather than being plugged into a particular position.
And, hey, he has been really, really good there. Through 42 Spring Training at-bats, Happ’s .333/.417/.810 slash line is second only to Kyle Schwarber, and his five home runs lead the team. In between mashing the ball, Happ’s also walking at a 10.6% clip. He is striking out quite a bit, too (near 30%), but the way he’s hitting, that’s hasn’t been a problem.
If Happ keeps on hitting like this, then it won’t be long before he could become a full-on, everyday leadoff hitter for the Cubs. For a 23-year-old entering his first full professional season on a divisional favorite that’s reached the NLCS in three straight seasons … that’s not too shabby.