The Cubs have been lacking position player depth for the entire season, and it’s about time the organization call up minor league outfielder Ian Happ, and give him an opportunity to prove himself. Although Happ struggled mightily the second half of last season in the big leagues, and got off to a slow start this year in the minors, he has finally figured it out at the plate recently. In the month of July, Happ has a slash line of .303/.439/.606, which equates to a 1.045 OPS. He also has a 19.5% walk rate and a 22% strikeout rate (Source: MiLB.com). These numbers are far and away the best he’s put up in the minors this year. It’s a positive sign that he’s starting to hit with power while simultaneously keeping the strikeout rate low and the walk rate high. Putting all facets of his swing together has been the biggest question mark of his young career, but it appears he has finally done so.
In addition to Happ’s hot month of July, the players on the MLB roster are not producing to a point where there isn’t room for Happ in the majors. It would be redundant to dive into how disappointing Albert Almora has been this year, as I published an article on Monday describing his struggles. He continues to perform worse and worse. The rest of MLB has attacked Almora’s weaknesses relentlessly and he has not adjusted back. It’s bizarre why he continues to play, but in all honestly it’s because the Cubs do not have a fourth outfielder on the MLB roster. They’ve been playing Kris Bryant, Robel Garcia, and other infielders in the outfield all season to try and cover up the black hole that is Albert Almora. While this provides a temporary resolution, the Cubs should not continue to play its roster out of position as the tight divisional race continues.
Other than acquiring an outfielder at the deadline, which is a very realistic possibility, Ian Happ is the only center fielder in the organization that can provide an immediate solution in 2019, if Albert Almora cannot figure it out. They could theoretically acquire a corner outfielder at the deadline and move Jason Heyward to center field, but the Cubs should tread carefully with this alternative. As I described in the article published Monday, Heyward is a well below-average center fielder and an elite right fielder. The defensive capability in the outfield takes a nosedive when he plays in center. Due to this, Happ remains the best option in center, and it’s very peculiar why he has not been given an opportunity to prove his worth.
It would be one thing if Happ has never proven himself to be a competent hitter in the Majors, but his career stats prove this notion false. In 875 plate appearances in the major leagues, Happ has an .801 OPS (Source: baseball-reference.com). Not only is this around 50 points higher than the MLB average, but it’s far and away better than Almora’s current .657 OPS. Almora is around 35% below league average, putting himself in the bottom-tier of the league. I’m by no means implying that there’s nothing in regard to Happ’s approach at the plate that warrants skepticism. In the second half of last year in the big leagues, he was a strikeout machine and would likely strikeout at a well-above-average rate if he were to be called up right now. However, that’s not the point. The point is that he’s a much better alternative than any other realistic option the Cubs have.
With all this said, there has to be a reasonable explanation as to why Happ is not on the major league roster at this point. It’s entirely likely the Cubs are keeping him in the minors to not manipulate his trade value. The more Happ continues to rake, the more his trade value increases. He’s by no means a top prospect in baseball, but there is a lot of value in uncertainty. Producing at a high level in the minors is much better than him being called up, struggling mightily, and removing all doubt with his potential. If that scenario played out, it would essentially render his trade value worthless. But if the Cubs are actually considering trading Happ, what’s the long-term solution in center field? I understand the Cubs are focused on winning in 2019, but throughout the entire organization center field remains the biggest need and there is not a close second. If Almora doesn’t pan out, which at this point the sample size is large enough to assume he will not, the Cubs have no backup plan in center if they trade Happ. They’ve been playing top overall prospect Nico Hoerner in center field recently in the minors, but that’s a risk considering he played middle infield his entire college career. The bottom line is that if the Cubs do not plan on trading Happ, he needs to be called up immediately.
Featured Photo: Ian Happ/Twitter