LOS ANGELES – Cubs manager David Ross knew outfielder Ian Happ would be on guard when he called a pregame meeting Sunday morning. So, he started it with a decoy: All-Star break schedule and travel details.
Only after getting the nuts and bolts out of the way did Ross deliver the news that Happ had earned his first All-Star selection.
“He just put his head in his hands, got super emotional,” Ross said. “And all his teammates started clapping really loud, and lots of hugs. … That’s a guy that puts a lot of pressure on himself, believes in himself, and to see that pay off – I’m super happy for him.”
Major League Baseball announced All-Star pitchers and reserves, including Happ, on Sunday. While starters are named through a fan vote, pitchers and reserves are chosen through player ballots and commissioner’s office selections.
The Cubs are set to send two players, Happ and NL All-Star starting catcher Willson Contreras, to Los Angeles for the All-Star Game next week. Head athletic trainer P.J. Mainville was also one of two trainers selected to work with the NL squad.
Contreras has been lobbying for Happ’s All-Star campaign for weeks.
“The work he’s done this year is impressive,” Contreras said over a week ago, pointing to Happ’s breakout stats. “And I 100% know that he deserves to be there with me.”
Entering play Sunday, Happ ranked third among NL outfielders in on-base percentage (.372) and in the top 5 in batting average (.277) and wins above replacement (2.2), according to FanGraphs.
“Happer has been as consistent of a player as I’ve ever seen him be,” Ross said. “And the fact that he gets rewarded for that, being an All-Star, he’s deserving of that. I think he’s upped his game — not just offensive numbers, but his defense, his base running, his all-around game has been stellar. And I’m so happy for him.”
Happ, playing left field on an everyday basis, has a collection of diving and sliding highlights already this season.
Happ himself is skeptical of many defensive statistics, and defensive WAR in particular – “There’s little things that go into a game, or playing defense, that are hard to evaluate.” But Happ’s defensive WAR has jumped from last season to this (-8.4 to -2.6) by FanGraphs’ measurement, supporting the eye test.
On offense, the switch hitter has been doing damage on both sides of the plate, entering Sunday slashing .255/.359/.424 against right-handed pitchers and .353/.421/.529 against lefties.
”I think some of the ball flights for me are things that I haven’t done in a while,” Happ told the Sun-Times last month of his right-handed swing. ”So some of that opposite-field stuff is coming back. There’s definitely some things that I haven’t felt in a while that start to become more familiar, which is nice. But I never had a doubt that I could do it, if given the opportunity.”
Happ had one request of Ross after the manager announced Contreras’ All-Star selection on Friday in front of the whole team.
“He told me … that if he happens to make the team,” Ross recalled, “don’t tell him in front of everybody because he’s going to cry like a baby.
“So, I couldn’t wait to give the news in front of everybody.”