Ian Happ has become a good major league hitter. He came up as a solid prospect, the morphed into a borderline Rookie of the Year candidate. He had some struggles, but bounced back to putting up a 2020 season that will garner him some MVP votes. Today, we'll examine his minor league career and development.
Ian Happ played three seasons of college baseball, as a Cincinatti Bearcat. He put up solid numbers: .336 .462 .551 1.012. The Cubs selected him 9th overall in the 2015 draft. He spent a month with the Eugene Emeralds (A-) and put up a solid OPS around .900. From there, he made the trip to the South bend Cubs to finish out the season. South Bend's numbers weren't quite as good, a .763 OPS.
The Cubs still promoted him in 2016, as he spent half seasons at A+ Myrtle Beach (.885 OPS) and AA Tennessee (.733 OPS). In 2017, he got a month's worth of seasoning at AAA Iowa, and put up a minor league personal best .977 OPS. The Cubs called him up May 13th, just shy of his 2 year draft anniversary.
While he had a good 2017 rookie campaign, his sophomore 2018 was a bit of a disaster. He took walks, but struggled to make contact at times. After struggling in spring training 2019, the Cubs front office sent him back to AAA to figure it out. It seemed to have worked, as he came back solid, then exploded in 2020.
Some of the quirks in Happ's numbers:
-His MILB and MLB OPS are pretty similar. His minor league walk rate is spot on with the big league one. He hit a slight higher average in the minors, but his SLG is significantly better in the bigs.
-He strikes out at a 31.4% rate in the bigs, 23.8% in the minors. Despite this, his batting average is only .013 higher in the minors, compared to the show.
-It's worth noting that his AAA numbers in 2019 weren't particularly spectacular. He didn't go to AAA and rake and get called back up quickly. His K rate from that partial season was 26.3%, so he did start to get things under control at upper levels.
Overall, I'm now optimistic for Happ's future. I was worried that he couldn't make contact enough to justify the hype. As he was rushed through the minor league system, it's really not that surprising to see that he went through some deep struggles (in retrospect). But he seemed to cut down on the strikeouts, and he's been rock solid in the big leagues since. WIth K rates of 25% in 2019 and 30% so far in 2020, it seems like he's begun to shape that up. He's had two great partial seasons, and shows no signs of slowing.