The past couple of 1st round picks have gone pretty well for the Cubs.
Though with one of the best front offices in baseball, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. However, the development and production from the team’s first picks in recent years is too hard to ignore. In 2013, Kris Bryant went from homer-happy college player to one of the best all-around players in baseball. The next year, Theo Epstein and co. ‘took a chance’ on IU catcher Kyle Schwarber. Now he’s amongst the brightest young players in the league and, at just 23, already a postseason legend.
Bryant debuted a little under two years after being drafted. Schwarber was even quicker, reaching the majors a mere year later. The difference between these two and other top prospects is their experience, as Bryant and Schwarber were already well-regarded college players at the time of draft day. Both were 1st Team All-Americans and finalists for nationwide awards, and were considered players who wouldn’t have any trouble translating their hitting to the big leagues.
Ian Happ, the Cub’s 1st round pick in 2015, fits the other two’s profile to an extent. An accomplished college player for the University of Cincinnati, he was taken out of school with little questions about his ability to hit. The questions were would he ever be able to improve well enough to snatch a starting spot from one of the many highly touted young position players the Cubs already possess. Though he predominantly played in the OF in college, he was moved to 2nd base after being drafted. It’ll be hard for him to take over that position, as 2011 1st round pick Javier Baez’s defense as of right now is superior to Happ’s, not to mention the former’s a sparkplug who does so many other things well. Things get even murkier in the OF. Ben Zobrist and Schwarber are sharing LF for the forseeable future, 2012 1st round pick Albert Almora is being groomed into the starting CF position and Jason Heyward’s Gold Glove defense in RF is too valuable. Heyward could opt out after next season, but the team’s current No.1 prospect, Eloy Jimenez, is a potential superstar who just so happens to play RF.
Add it all up and you have a top prospect on the cusp of being MLB-ready who has no clear path for regular playing time. Not to say that every prospect who gets promoted is guaranteed a spot in the lineup, but Happ may have trouble getting any playing time at all, as every position he can play has another player[s] firmly entrenched there for at least two more years. Bernie Pleskoff of FanRag Sports deduced that Happ would have to hit his way into the Cubs lineup in order to stay there, which makes sense considering his defense leaves more to be desired. However, manager Joe Maddon values versatility perhaps more than any other coach, and throw in the fact that Happ’s a switch-hitter and he reminds you of fellow Cub Ben Zobrist on what he can bring to the table.
So if he’s currently roadblocked, should the Cubs trade him? It’s certainly tempting, especially considering that Happ would attract a number of suitors. The question is, what could they get for him? An offensive 2nd baseman who can hit for average and power as well as swipe a few bags is something teams would love to have – for the right price of course. But what exactly could the Cubs expect to get in return? Since Happ has yet to play in the majors it’s hard to say, but another prospect of Happ’s caliber should be the starting point, assuming the return isn’t a player already in the majors. We know the Cubs’ pitching situation moving forward is filled with question marks. A swap for a touted pitching prospect who’s also close to being MLB-ready could be what’s best for the organization moving forward. On the other hand, injuries happen when you least expect them to. Keeping a versatile player like Happ around when you might need him would certainly be wise, especially when he can play a valuable role off the bench or as a super-utility man.
There’s no question that Happ is a future big leaguer. He’s shown that he can hit at the next level and possesses the versatility teams crave. The question is can he get the plate appearances and playing time necessary for him to develop into the player the Cubs think he can be? Or will the team’s current crop of young position players relegate him to a utility man or trade chip? He could get his chance soon, as some experts predict he gets the call-up at some point this season. If he performs well and contributes, then you can extend the Cubs’ 1st round winning streak to 5.