Earlier this week, Joe Maddon went off on a – what’s the positive version of a rant? a sonnet? – tangent about Ian Happ, a player he’s already said won’t be going down to AAA to work on his game any time soon, and whose versatility, at a minimum, has kept him afloat on a quality big league roster for the better part of a year now, even in his early 20s with little professional experience.
“Happ’s got all kinds of tools. He’s dripping with ability,” Maddon told Cubs.com. “He’s one of the best throwing arms we have. If you had a contest from center field and put a gun out there, he might win it. Speed wise, he might clock as the fastest guy on the team. If you did a little home run derby before the game, he’d probably hit the ball farther than anyone else. His exit velocity might be as good as anybody else’s. He can play the infield and the outfield and he’s a switch-hitter and he’s very bright.”
The affection is not hard to see.
And it didn’t end there.
Look at what Maddon recently told ESPN about Happ: “I need to get him out there. His development is very important to us and to me personally. I have to figure out a way to get this done.”
To Maddon personally. I can’t say I’ve seen him quite put it that way about a player before.
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer went on to expound on that connection: “Ian has such a great makeup. He’s such a likable kid. He’s so competitive. He cares so much and is intelligent. I think those things resonate with Joe. He sees the ability [Happ] has as a player. I just think they have a nice relationship. It’s based on all those attributes. The reason Joe believes in him is the same reason the whole organization does, but I do think he has taken a personal interest in him.” There’s much more in the ESPN piece about Happ, Maddon, and the Cubs’ organization’s perspective. Good read.
Setting aside any likability factor, it’s not too hard to figure out why Maddon, in particular, would be crazy about a player like Happ. We’re talking about a switch-hitter, who is fast, who can play the infield and outfield, and who seems not to be affected by the moving around. If you could manufacture a perfect Joe Maddon player, a fully-developed Ian Happ is it.
Hence why Maddon – and, by extension, the Cubs – see so much value in getting Happ to where he could possibly be. I’m not going to take easy route and say things like “next Ben Zobrist,” but it’s clear that Maddon sees *AND UTILIZES WELL* the extreme value in players like that. Happ has the potential to be the kind of player who is not only deployable in so many roles, but can be one of your best players, too.
Yes, Happ is still adjusting to center field. Yes, Happ is striking out like he’s facing an invisiball sometimes. But he’s a 23-year-old who had one – ONE! – full minor league season before he came up to the big leagues. An adjustment period (how many times have we seen this before?) is to be expected, and the fruits of it (how many times have we seen that before, too?) could be tremendous.
I’m not here to say that Happ might never need a trip back to the minor leagues to work on things. Javy Baez did. Kyle Schwarber did. Anthony Rizzo did. It can be a wholly appropriate part of the process.
But for now, it sounds like Maddon and the Cubs are very committed to working with Happ to get him to where he can be a daily valuable piece of this current roster. And, not to be crass, but it doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the few young Cubs who is still multiple years away from arbitration. As the rest of the roster gets more and more expensive, having Happ around as a quality player at multiple positions could prove critical.
Happ, you’ll note, is starting today in center field.