It is great when rookies come up and exceed expectations as Ian Happ did in 2017, even if it was not in full-time duty. Happ was part of the outfield rotation as well as the second-base situation in Chicago as manager Joe Maddon likes to keep everyone involved. His rookie year saw him slug over .500, something only the likes of Kris Bryant and Billy Williams have done for the northsiders. With the great power came the great problems with contact as he struck out in nearly one-third of his plate appearances. The power comes nearly all from the left side (19 of his 24 homers game off righties), but he hits for a better average when put into the game to face lefties. Many rookies struggle at the big-league level when moved as quickly as Happ has been -- he had fewer than 400 plate appearances above A-ball. This kid is special and has more room for growth.
Happ will be the Cubs' primary leadoff hitter, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports. Happ hasn't been officially named to the role, and manager Joe Maddon is a known tinkerer, so others such as Albert Almora will hit leadoff from time to time. Still, the expectation is that Happ will lead off the majority of the time that he's in the lineup. If that is indeed what happens, Happ should see an uptick in runs while batting in front of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, though he'll miss out on opportunities to drive the pair in, so the overall effect won't be large.
Happ has five hits and three home runs in just 10 at-bats so far in spring training. After clubbing 24 home runs in 364 at-bats as a rookie last year, Happ looks poised for another big season in the power department if early returns are any indication. The 23-year-old is also competing for the leadoff spot this spring. If he wins the job and bats in front of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, he should see an uptick in runs, though he'd likely have fewer RBI opportunities. No matter where he bats, Happ is shaping up to be a fantasy force for many years to come.
Happ is auditioning for the Cubs' leadoff spot, Carrie Muskat of MLB.com reports. Happ hit leadoff in the Cubs' Cactus League opener against the Brewers on Friday. Manager Joe Maddon cautioned against reading too much into a spring lineup, but said that Happ, Kyle Schwarber, and Albert Almora are among those in contention for the the leadoff role. Happ led off eight times for the Cubs in 2017, though his .328 on-base percentage is somewhat low for a table-setter. If he were to win the job and bat in front of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, his run total would jump up, but that would be offset by a drop in RBI, so the net effect won't be huge.
The Cubs may lean heavily on Happ in a utility role to reduce the workload of Ben Zobrist this season, the Chicago Tribune reports. A clear-cut plan for how the playing time will be divided between second base and the three outfield spots has not be revealed, but Happ is expected to move around often as he can spell Kyle Schwarber or Jason Heyward against lefties, handle center field against tough righties when Albert Almora sits, and fill in for Javier Baez at the keystone if desired. Nevertheless, it sounds like he's positioned to at least match the 413 plate appearances he racked up last season, and it's worth noting that Zobrist nearly reached 500 plate appearances a year ago, a feat that seems highly unlikely in 2018.
Happ is not in the lineup for Game 5 of the NLCS against the Dodgers on Thursday. Over the course of the playoffs, Happ is just 0-for-6 at the plate with five strikeouts and a walk, and will remain on the bench for another elimination game against Clayton Kershaw. Albert Almora will patrol center and Kyle Schwarber gets the nod in left.
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