Organization: Chicago Cubs || 2016 club: Myrtle Beach Pelicans (A-Adv.), Tennessee Smokies (AA)
Position: 2B || Age: 22 || DOB: August 12, 1994 || Birthplace: Pittsburgh, PA
Acquired: 2015 Draft (1st Rd., Univ. of Cincinnati) || 2016 prospect rank: CHC #1, MLB #21 (MLB.com)
2016 stats: 134 games, 488 AB, .279/.365/.445/.810, 30 2B, 15 HR, 68 BB, 129 K, 16 SB
- Happ’s 2016
Splitting time almost exactly equally between High-A and Double-A, Happ turned in the type of statistical summer you’d expect from a high-round draft pick coming from a polished four-year college background. The switch-hitting second baseman showed off some power (30 doubles, 15 homers), some speed (16 stolen bases), and a patient approach (68 walks, though he did strike out 129 times in 134 games).
All that earned him a mid-season All-Star nod with Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League, at which point he was promoted to Double-A Tennessee, where his numbers took a dip as he adjusted to better competition, though his overall summer remained strong enough.
It’s that promotion to the Southern League that is most telling; his batting average dropped 30 points compared to High-A and his slugging percentage 60 points—neither ideal, and yet both somewhat expected with jumping a level at mid-season—and yet it was his patient approach and good eye at the plate that took the biggest dive.
In just eight more at-bats in Double-A compared to High-A, he walked 28 fewer times. Relatively small sample sizes acknowledged (he had 488 at-bats combined between the two), it’ll help Happ’s ability to stick in the big leagues if he can show patience at the plate in addition to his unquestionable hit tool, considering his place in the field is a more tenuous proposition (more on that below). Maintaining that higher walk rate at higher minor league levels, then, should prove he’s adjusting well as 2017 looms.
All that said, he’s a 2015 first round draft pick out of the University of Cincinnati, and so considering he’s already reached Double-A—and the Arizona Fall League—by the end of 2016 tells you all you need to know about his bright future and what the Cubs believe they have in Happ. If he’s to be a second baseman long term, that budding power stroke from both sides of the plate ought to make things exciting in 2017 for both Happ and the organization, and he’s bringing it along quickly.
- Scouting Happ
At the plate, Happ is an exceptionally polished hitter who’s equally smooth from both sides. Statistically, he showed both a little more power and a better ability to hit for average from the right side of the plate compared to the left in 2016, but long-term he has the swing mechanics and smooth, quick stroke from both sides to find consistent success.
To that end, when combined with his relentlessly patient approach and mature understanding of the strike zone, it’s likely he’ll hit for decent average and get on base at an above-average clip in his career. He doesn’t have plus speed, but he’s not slow-footed, either, and so if he can pick his spots on the bases, he has an outside shot at being a 20-20 guy in the future. (That said, it’s more likely, at least in my mind, that his power will develop to a greater degree than his base stealing speed).
Regardless, he’s a mature hitter who has the ability to turn on the ball with authority while also going the other way depending on how he’s being pitched. His higher floor and relative experience to this point leave it as no wonder that he’s the Cubs’ top prospect, above exceptional—but raw—power threat Eloy Jimenez.
It’s defensively, though, where Happ could potentially fall short. A second baseman-turned-outfielder in college, the Cubs moved him back to second in the hopes that they could take advantage of his exceptional bat in a less-demanding infield spot. At second this fall with the Mesa Solar Sox, he’s been… OK. He doesn’t have the softest hands, the best range, or the quickest first step, and he’s not the smoothest fielder on the diamond by any means, and yet he’s also not in over his head at the position, either. He’ll more or less survive at second base, and if he doesn’t, and yet shows power at the plate, he could move to left field one day.
Granted, there’s a development process in place to where Happ could easily stick at second long-term, especially as he takes more repetitions and improves in time to the point where he’s merely a league-average defender that won’t help but also won’t hurt with the glove. That’s just fine, and assuming he can come along as he should at the plate, he’ll provide value with his bat that will far outweigh what most other second baseman can do. If his bat were to stall out somewhat in the high minors, though, there might be a tough fit for him going forward with few defensive options beyond second.
- Going Forward
It’ll be interesting to see where the Cubs start Happ in 2017; he didn’t fail out of Double-A this summer, and yet he also didn’t tear the cover off the ball once he got there. A college product, he’s already 22 years old, and yet 2017 will only be his second full professional season. He’s holding his own in the Arizona Fall League, and yet he’s not even the most exciting Cubs farmhand there (again, you have to watch Eloy Jimenez swing the bat). Related to all this, it’s no secret the organization already has an exciting young player manning second base at Wrigley Field.
Where does all this leave Happ? In all likelihood, he’ll spend 2017 split between Double-A and Triple-A, with the Cubs coming to an interesting crossroads to determine whether he’s a sure-fire part of their future or an extremely attractive trade chip to an organization seeking big league-ready prospects.
This is pure speculation, but Happ would be an interesting trade piece (far more so than Jimenez, at least to me). With all his value tied up in his bat, the Cubs might do well to sell high on him this winter, or at some point next summer, if they feel strongly enough about their big league depth at second and need hot stove or trade deadline help at another position. With either path, though, adjusting to Double-A to start next summer by tearing the cover off the ball like he should can only further strengthen Happ’s value.
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