By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (670 The Score) — Sporting Cubs blue in a custom suit, Ian Happ looked quite comfortable as he worked a room inside the Sheraton Grand.
Before the Cubs Convention opening ceremonies on Friday evening, the even-keeled Happ was loose as he caught up with teammates and members of the organization. He wasn’t even in attendance for the convention last January and couldn’t expect where the 2017 season would take him.
Now, the 23-year-old Happ is considered an integral piece for the Cubs.
“A little bit different than last offseason knowing when you’re going to spring training, you’re going to really get better and mesh with the guys and get ready for the season,” Happ said of his offseason. “As opposed to last year, it was kind of proving at some point I could help the team.”
The Cubs arrived at spring training last February fresh off a World Series championship and with their young core in place. Happ watched the thrilling Game 7 win in 2016 on television, wondering where he would fit with the team in the future. In spring training, he hit .383 with five home runs, 21 RBIs and a 1.191 OPS but was still sent to Triple-A Iowa to open the season.
Happ handled it all in stride, debuting with the Cubs in May and hitting a home run in his first game. He was supposed to work a short stint while the team handled injuries but forced the hand of Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and earned his place for good.
The Cubs’ first-round pick in 2015, Happ hit .253 with 24 homers and drove in 68 runs in 115 games. He proved to be a player whom manager Joe Maddon couldn’t keep out of the lineup. A second baseman by trade, Happ earned his place by playing 97 games in the outfield, working all three positions and even playing some third base in addition to his usual place at second base.
What was certain is that — like so many of the Cubs’ young players — there’s no ego in Happ.
“Be ready to help in any way I can,” Happ said.
Like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber before him, Happ became the latest Cubs draft pick to be thrust into the lineup as a rookie. This 2018 season will be about working toward the kind of stardom that Epstein envisioned for a first-rounder. After losing in five games to the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, the Cubs are counting on more from their young players, some of whom went through long stretches of inconsistency in 2017.
At this point, Happ appears likely to be in a center-field platoon with 2012 first-round pick Albert Almora Jr. and once again filling in at as many other positions as possible in 2018. Happ had 413 plate appearances in 2017, and he can expect to crack the 500 mark this season. His positional versatility means Happ is also an insurance policy of sorts for the Cubs should teammates struggle.
Even as his exact fit remains somewhat of a mystery, Happ is keeping the goals simple for his first full season in the big leagues.
“I want to help the team every day,” he said. “Help the Chicago Cubs win baseball games. That’s always my main goal.”