How Does Ian Happ’s Spring Slump Factor as Cubs Value Production Over Talent?

There have been a lot of positives for the Cubs so far this spring. Yu Darvish is healthy and feeling comfortable, Kyle Schwarber is back to a more athletic stance, and Nico Hoerner is turning heads in Mesa by reaching base pretty much every time he steps to the plate. But one player not drawing superlatives is Ian Happ.

The versatile switch-hitter is batting a paltry .107 with just a .303 OPS in plate appearances this spring, disheartening even given the small sample. Happ has always been an extremely streaky hitter, though, and blasted nine home runs during camp last year.

When that power continued with a leadoff homer in Miami on the first pitch of the season, optimism soared. Happ was the slugging leadoff hitter who could power the Cubs offense. That buzz quickly faded with a disappointing 2018 performance that included only 15 home runs and a whopping 167 strikeouts in just 462 plate appearances.

Meanwhile, other Cubs who will challenge Happ for playing time are definitely not scuffling. Albert Almora Jr. is hitting the ball well after some offseason mechanical adjustments and is playing his typical stellar defense. But perhaps an even bigger threat is Mark Zagunis, who has maintained his reputation as an on-base machine with a .417 mark so far in Arizona.

Happ has also stated he would like to play more second base this season and he’s gotten some opportunities, but that position is even more crowded than the outfield. David Bote is mashing, Ben Zobrist will still get a lot of time on the infield, and Joe Maddon seems to love what Daniel Descalso brings.

Addison Russell’s eventual return will create even more of a logjam, whether it’s him or Javy Báez moving to second. Either way, there’s going to be little other than fill-in duty at the keystone spot starting in May.

Among all the players to whom Theo Epstein’s call for going with production over talent, applies, Happ may be the most obvious. He’s got more than a little skill, but he will have to earn his playing time. And while it may not be entirely likely, it’s not inconceivable that he could find himself making a detour through Iowa at some point.

It’s premature to worry about Happ’s production from a few spring games, but all the talk of urgency and a need for the Cubs to improve from within makes his situation one to monitor.

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