What a year it’s been for Ian Happ, who begins this baseball season as one of the Chicago Cubs’ prospects to watch.
Happ, a 2012 graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School, was in his junior year and final baseball season at the University of Cincinnati a year ago. He played in 56 games, batted .369 and was a semifinalist for the 2015 Golden Spikes Award, college baseball’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
In June, Happ was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the first round, ninth overall, in the Major League Baseball draft. He signed with the Cubs and played another 67 games with Single A teams Eugene and South Bend, followed by three weeks practicing in the Arizona Instructional League in the fall. Then, finally, came an off-season of rest and working out on his own before reporting to spring training in Arizona.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Happ, 21, says. “It was a really exciting time. Everything started building up a whole year earlier. It was a fun time.”
A 6-foot, 205-pound switch-hitter, Happ has played infield and outfield, but his future with the Cubs seems likely to be at second base. Chicago is expected to bring him along slowly for now—he was assigned to minor-league training camp this spring—as he gets more comfortable at second base. His future seems bright, though. MLB Pipeline named him the third-best second base prospect, and mlb.com placed him among the top 100 prospects in baseball.
With the Eugene Emeralds, a short-season Class A club in the Northwest League, Happ made his pro debut and had a batting average of .283 in 29 games. He then got promoted to the South Bend Cubs, a higher Class A team in the Midwest League. He hit .241 in 39 games. He had a combined nine home runs and 17 doubles.
His numbers, particularly in the power areas, weren’t terrific for someone who was drafted that high primarily because of his batting strength, but it was his first season as a pro coming on the heels of a full college season. The Cubs are more than willing to work with Happ so he develops into a solid major-leaguer.
“He went through a lot, and he played a lot of baseball,” says South Bend manager Jimmy Gonzalez. “Where he was picked and the media and pressure—I know he didn’t do as well as he wanted to do. That was a good thing, to see him not satisfied. He’s hard on himself. I applauded him for that.
“He has very good strike zone discipline, such a good idea of the strike zone. He’s got power from both sides of the plate. He’s going to have to make little adjustments” as he climbs through higher levels of baseball.
Happ is eager to dive into that process.