During spring training heading into the 2019 MLB season, outfielder and infielder Ian Happ was batting just .135/.196/.192 for the Chicago Cubs. Due to this performance, it was determined that he would be sent down to the minors and start the year in Triple-A. Despite his poor start in spring training, he was definitely surprised by the demotion. “Definitely surprised,” Happ said. “I think we’re going to stay away from questions like that, though, and focus on more of the stuff that we’re doing here. I’m not going to comment on the things that happened there.” Most were surprised by the demotion, not just Happ. Happ looks to be an important piece moving forward with the Cubs. His defensive versatility and switch-hitting abilities are a plus for any club but it was decided that he would try and figure out a different approach while in the minors.
For a guy who spent the past year and a half in the majors, one would expect him to go down to the minors and easily hit Triple-A pitching. But even there he struggled and put up a slash line of .233/.330/.411 with three home runs. His strikeout percentage was up and it looked like this wasn’t going to be a brief stay for him down in Iowa, where the Cubs Triple-A affiliate is located. As the months went by, the Cubs went through a variety of infielders and outfielders, looking for that extra guy who could contribute in a big way. Carlos Gonzalez was signed to a minor league deal and made his call up shortly thereafter. Robel Garcia, an infielder who played in Italy the last several years, also got the call up to see how he would fare. Daniel Descalso was also taking up time at second base for half the season as well. All three of these players were either designated for assignment, sent back to the minors, or sitting out due to injury and lack of production at the plate.
All the while Happ spent his time in the minors, trying to figure it out but in a way he seemed forgotten by the club, especially with his early struggles in the minors. So when he finally got the call to the big leagues at the end of July it seemed he would be another guy they gave a shot and see what happens. Happ had a hot July in the minors .324/.451/.608 and with the Cubs inconsistencies this year, particularly on the road, it was hopeful that he could provide a spark to the offense and he immediately made an impact. So far this year in the majors, Happ is batting .273/.360/.591 with an OPS of .951 through his first 17 games back with the club. His presence has been known this year, belting a go-ahead grand slam and a go-ahead solo home run in two different games against the Oakland Athletics. It was clear that he wanted to stay in the majors and the minors would be a thing of the past.
Should Happ have been allowed to work through his struggles in the majors instead of the minors? After all, all baseball players go through their own struggles and the good ones eventually figure out how to adjust. It took Happ all the way until July to put up good numbers in the minors, which certainly justified keeping him down there. But when you look collectively at the poor numbers from Gonzalez, Descalso, and Garcia it’s hard not to imagine sticking with Happ all the way through and let him re-tool his approach with the help of his major league managers. Of course, it’s not easy to predict that the Cubs would have so much trouble getting production out of certain guys in the lineup. Sometimes whatever you throw at the wall just doesn’t stick.
Ian Happ has brought a lot of energy in his short time so far with the Cubs. With the addition of Nicholas Castellanos in a trade with the Tigers, the line up is starting to look a lot different from the start of the year but both are producing at the plate and help shapes the lineup into something more concrete than the revolving door of players who may or may not work out. The Chicago Cubs are currently in first place in the NL Central but by a slim margin of two games ahead of the Cardinals. Ian Happ may have come at the right time in the season when the offense is a must and in this tough division. Regardless of what happens, Ian Happ is back in the majors and I bet he’s pretty happy about that.