By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) — Impressing Cubs manager Joe Maddon and his coaching staff isn’t always easy. While Maddon can always find something upbeat to say when talking about his players, what his scouting background tells him internally is another matter.
Maddon is a top-flight talent evaluator. So when he came to Mesa in early February, he made sure to take in in some batting practice of two highly touted youngsters in camp — infielder Ian Happ and outfielder Eloy Jimenez. They’re the top two ranked prospects in the Cubs’ farm system, according to many outlets and publications.
A first-round pick in 2015, the 22-year-old switch-hitting Happ in particular has made his first big league camp count. He’s hitting .467 with with three homers and nine RBIs in 15 games this spring, catching the eye of Maddon and top executives Theo Epsetin and Jed Hoyer.
“He has had a nice camp,” Maddon said of Happ. “I have been watching. The hitting coaches have really been impressed. He is now taking that into the games. Theo and Jed have talked about him often.”
In the Cubs’ 3-1 win against the Padres on Monday, Happ went 3-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs.
“He is one of those ‘I think I belong here’ guys,” Maddon said. “He is definitely a major league player in waiting. He is more confident now than early in camp. He was spinning off pitches. He had an at-bat against the Angels, he hit a line drive and has been locked in since that time. Since that line drive, he has been hot.”
In the long term, Happ isn’t sure if the organization will stick him at second base or add left field to his resume. And he’s just fine with that.
“During spring training it will be mostly second base,” he said. “Once the season starts, they told me I will play some outfield. That versatility really helps in this organization. You must play multiple positions. You must help your team anyway you can.
“When you are around a group of guys like this, it is easy to learn quickly. What better way to learn about being a professional and improving than being with this group? You look around this clubhouse, and all you see are All -Stars in each locker. That certainly sets the bar higher. This is great for us younger players to learn from people like this. We are pretty lucky to be in this organization and a part of something special.”
Happ has received plenty of advice from the rest of the Cubs’ young core.
“We have seen some of these guys come through the system really fast,” Happ said. “It is nice to be able to talk with them about early experiences. They have shared some things about being successful at a young age. That has been very helpful and valuable.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.