After strong May, center fielder Ian Happ feels good things are around the corner.
SAN FRANCISCO – There isn’t one path for development in the big leagues and while there are players around the game who have thrived since they were first called up to the big leagues, that is rarely the case for most players. It’s a grind to get to the big leagues, but staying there and thriving is another story.
Center fielder Ian Happ has seen all sides of the development during the early portion of his Major League career. After breaking onto the scene in 2017 with 24 homers as a rookie, things took a turn.
After not making the roster out of camp in 2019, the Cubs’ center fielder’s strong end of 2019 carried over into last season when he was the team’s best offensive player.
Happ has had a slow start to the 2021 season, but after returning from the injured list on May 15, he finished the month slashing .292/.387/.585 with four doubles, five homers and a 164 wRC+.
“It’s part of the game,” Happ told the Sun-Times. “That’s why we love playing and competing. Being a lefty at Wrigley in April is tough, but hit .290ish last month with a .900 OPS, I had a great May.
“You can only claw back so much after what happened in April and so you have to be able to put that behind you and continue moving on. I know that there’s four months left in the season and you continue to do things the right way, like in May, at the end of the year the results will be there.”
Happ knows firsthand that the adjustment the league makes to young players comes quickly and continues as players evolve. Whether it’s mechanics, timing, different pitches or even pitch shapes, the constant back-and-forth between a team’s scouting report and how to battle against that doesn’t stop.
“There’s always things that you work on throughout the season for mechanics and timing,” Happ said. “Timing is everything in this game, so we’re always trying to maintain that. And I’m making sure my timing is where I want it.
“I think it’s more as preparation and getting in the box and just really focusing on what’s happening on the field, the opposing pitcher, that’s always the focus. That’s always trying to work on mechanics early and eliminate as much of that going.
Happ’s quest for growth as a player after experiencing the highs and lows of the game isn’t an uncommon story. In fact, several Cubs players who have been called up recently have also encountered.
While players like third baseman Patrick Wisdom and outfielder Rafael Ortega aren’t young players, after different stops on their baseball journey, trying to be a new version of themselves with the Cubs is still the goal.
“I learned so much about myself one early on and just fine trying to find a routine,” manager David Ross said. “I think that that’s always changing and evolving. You’re always learning more. … I don’t think that ever changes. Guys are constantly learning. The game is changing, the game’s evolving, you have to do that as well.
“I think you get to a point where you’re established and you understand your routine and your role. And I think that’s where a lot of guys that have come up, those guys that have been up in the big leagues understand. They just need to come up, compete and play their game and they’re very comfortable in that.”