(670 The Score) Ahead of the 2017 season, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein had an inkling catcher Willson Contreras would have a breakout year. Epstein proved to be right, as Contreras was the team MVP of sorts en route to a 21-homer season in which he also posted an .855 OPS and was so often the Cubs’ beating heart.
So who in Epstein’s mind could be the youngster to make “the leap” this season? Look no further than Ian Happ, who will spend the majority of his time in the outfield this season but can also play the infield.
“Happ is a good candidate for that honor at this point, based on what he’s done this winter to reshape his body a little bit,” Epstein said on the Spiegel and Parkins Show on Wednesday. “I had a conversation with him at the end of last season when we were done playing. He’d had a terrific rookie year — 24 homers in a partial season, showing he can play in the middle of the field a little bit, which hadn’t been expected of him. But he didn’t get in the lineup toward the end of the year, ended on a bit of a down note. We just had a conversation about learning from the year that he had. I asked him to focus on getting into his most athletic shape possible. He can go a lot of different directions with his body. He’s strong. He can get big and strong and be in a position to hit a ton of homers or he can lean down. He’s one of the fastest guys on the team and probably in the top 10 percent of fastest guys in the league when he gets going. I asked him to slim down.
“He had a great offseason reshaping his body, dropped a few pounds, got really twitchy and is moving around great in center field. Between that and the fundamental work that he’s been doing in the outfield all winter and into this spring training camp, it puts him in a position to be considered as a legit center fielder, which honestly we never thought was the case when we drafted him. If you would’ve seen him play in college, he was pretty defensively challenged.
“Now he’s someone who might see a lot of playing time in center field for a contending team. He deserves a ton of credit for that.”
Happ, 23, hit .253 with 24 homers, 68 RBIs and am .842 OPS in 115 games last season.