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Who is Ian Happ?

Who is Ian Happ?

By Loot, MLB Handicapper,

It's not often that a defending World Series champion brings up a rookie from the minors and immediately puts him in the clean-up spot. But that's just what has happened with second baseman Ian Happ a week ago. Manager Joe Maddon brought him up from Triple A and rather than let Happ get his feet wet, immediately jettisoned him into the clean-up role, which qualifies as an oddity. It begs the question: Who is Ian Happ? And what led to a rookie batting clean-up for the defending World Series champions.

Happ, 22, is unquestionably a top prospect—one of the top young properties in baseball. He's a second baseman with a good bat and more power than you generally get from that position. When some talk of Happ, memories go back to another great Cubs 2B from yesteryear in Ryne Sandberg. Whether Happ is ever able to approach Sandberg's effectiveness remains to be seen, but first signs are that Happ is an emerging star.

As of press time, Happ has played in just 6 games, accruing 21 at-bats, in which he's gotten 7 hits. He's shown some pop with two homers. If anything, he certainly doesn't seem overwhelmed by big league pitching. Then again, there have been a lot of players who got off to good starts only to later fizzle. The switch-hitting Happ was a top ten pick in the draft after a productive college career with the Cincinnati Bearcats. What led to such a quick promotion? And not only that, but what led to him being put in the clean-up spot in such a sink-or-swim scenario?

To understand the situation, it's important to know the man at the top—Cubs manager Joe Maddon. A keen baseball mind, Maddon is not afraid to try out new things. Most managers in his position with a defending World Series champion would likely play it safe. But Maddon didn't get to where he is by dutifully playing a role. He thinks outside the box. And 35 games into the season, sitting at a modest 18-17, Maddon decided to pump some life into the team and keep everyone on their toes. Enter Happ.

The New York Yankees were the last team to repeat as World Series Champions and that was back in 2000. World Series hangover is a real thing. Teams scratch and claw to get to the mountaintop and once they're at the peak, the body and mind sort of naturally relaxes. It's fairly human to do so on the heels of your signature success. And through an 18-17 start, the astute Maddon noticed that was the direction his team was heading, hence the personnel move that a lot of observers considered rash.

Again, most managers who are coming off a World Series-winning season would just have faith in their stars to kick it into gear. But by the middle part of May, Maddon had already grown weary of his big bats not showing up. And within 35 games, upset in the direction his team is headed, he made the move. As of press time, the big bats for the Cubbies haven't really shown up. Defending MVP Kris Bryant leads the way, but even his form seems a tick off. Guys like Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Ben Zobrist, and Addison Russell are all batting under .250. The expected production of Kyle Schwarber, who missed all of last season, hasn't surfaced. Schwarber is batting an anemic .182. So maybe it's nothing more than Maddon trying to show that no one is afforded the superstar treatment and that he's not afraid to mix it up.


So maybe it's not so crazy that Maddon can see the writing on the wall and made a move. Be that as it may, a recent call-up put into the clean-up role qualifies as a radical maneuver. There are a lot of people who fancy Happ as a can't-miss type of prospect. And first impressions are pretty good. He doesn't seem overwhelmed either by the bright lights or the amplified level of pitching.

In the minors, Happ showed a lot of overall talent. He's a skilled batsman who yields a lot of walks, including 83 in the minors last season. And in 6 games, he has already drawn 5 walks. Before coming up to the big club, he had swatted 9 homers in just over 100 at-bats in Triple A. So his power seems to be improving with age, being that he's still just 22. At the same time, he has never batted .300 in the minors. Last season, he had 151 strikeouts in the minors, despite hitting just 17 homers. So while he has the looks of a real blue-chipper, time will tell. Let's just say it's normal to raise your eyebrows when a May call-up is suddenly batting cleanup for a defending World Series champ. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet on baseball at home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!

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