By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Ian Happ was the bright spot for the Cubs in their 3-2 loss to the Padres on Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
The team’s first-round draft pick in 2015, Happ hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning to give his team a 2-1. It would be the only offense the Cubs generated on a day in which they managed just two hits.
On a club that has underperformed offensively this season, an inexperienced player like the 22-year-old rookie Happ is getting a chance to produce at the big league level because others who were counted on to mash haven’t hit. Happ’s homer Wednesday was his 10th of the season in 34 games.
“The ball comes off of his bat different,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It comes off hot and loud. As he gets more acquainted with the league, I believe you will see a higher batting average.”
Happ has certainly shown the ability to slug, as he’s averaging a homer once every 11.3 at-bats. Project that out over a full season of 550 at-bats, and that would give Happ a 48-homer pace.
Of Happ’s 25 hits this year, 18 have been for extra bases, and he has an. 879 OPS.
“I feel the at-bats are getting better,” Happ said. “As far as the contact, we have seen some balls go out of the park. If I continue to make hard contact, hopefully more will fall in.”
When he’s not slugging, Happ for long stretches has struggled, hitting .221. The contact element of his game has been poor, as he has 42 strikeouts in 129 plate appearances, a strikeout clip of 32.5 percent. He’s walked 14 times.
Happ maintains no fear, understanding there will be good days and bad days.
“Being in the lineup every day, you have to stay consistent with your approach and your process,” Happ said. “You just need to try and have quality at-bats each day. That is all you can do.”
Happ has walked or struck out in 43.4 percent of his plate appearances. When he makes contact with the ball in any regard, it goes for an extra-base hit about 25 percent of the time. That shows the raw ability he has.
While stats don’t tell you everything, they reflect that Happ is going through the final phases of development from the minor league level to the big leagues. He was dominant at Triple-A Iowa before being called up, which is what Cubs executives want to see before promoting players and which has become a mantra for president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.