Ian Happ had spent almost two full seasons in the majors, so many were surprised when he was sent down to Iowa near the end of spring training. But when you consider his rough second half and poor performance this spring, the decision made more sense. Happ showed the ability to adjust at each level over 843 minor league at-bats, but he failed to do so last summer and wasn’t going to get everyday reps in Chicago.
The hard thing about being sent down to the minors to adjust is that Happ is supposed to improve against minor league pitching. But his problems came against far superior major league pitching. Still, Happ can develop habits at Iowa that will allow him to adapt and perform in Chicago when he is ready. At least that’s the plan.
Happ is not going to be ready to return after just a few games and it could take a month or two. And while it’s still too early to take his early Triple-A results seriously, there are some statistical markers to point. Heading into Sunday, Happ had six RBI in three games to lead the entire Cubs system. Hitting .571 with RISP will drive in some runs and one might think that that is a good indicator that things are going well. But once you start to dig deeper, some glaring trends pop out.
He hasn’t walked once yet and he’s struck out times in 14 at-bats (28.6%). Again, too early for judgment, but excessive strikeouts were Happ’s main flaw and he needs to show improvement on that front. One cannot expect to be successful at the MLB level as a two-outcome hitter, so pay attention as he seeks to get the OBP up and the strikeouts down.
Happ continues to see relatively equal time lefty and righty, going 2-for-7 from each side of the plate so far. It helps that MiLB pitchers are not stretched out as much as MLB guys right now, so he’ll get a lot of different looks during the course of a game. On Saturday, he had three at-bats from the right side and two from the left, so the opportunities are there.
The Cubs did not send Happ down to reinvent everything about his game and they aren’t retooling his swing or breaking him down. It’s all about approach and getting him back to drawing walks and hitting for average and power from both sides of the plate.
Happ is batting first or second every night in order to maximize his plate appearances and he has played exclusively in center so far. He should see some time at DH as well, but I would not expect him to get too many days off or to play in the infield. This little excursion to Iowa is all about hitting, and if he can prove he’s corrected some of the flaws in his swing, Happ could be back in Chicago before long.