Cubs Believe They Have Zobrist 2.0 In Ian Happ

Ian Happ’s versatility at the plate helped keep him in the majors twice following his May 13 callup.

The 2015 first-rounder from Cincinnati, 22, now needs to improve his defensive versatility. Happ started games at all outfield positions in his first two weeks in the majors after playing primarily second base in the minors.

His best position had been the batter’s box. Happ homered to the pull field and drew a walk in his debut, doubled to the opposite field and beat out an infield single in his second game, then homered the opposite way and drew a bases-loaded walk in his Wrigley Field debut.

But more than the combination of power, plate discipline and speed, his comfort level speaks to a 14-year commitment to switch-hitting and an approach that had Cubs manager Joe Maddon batting him behind Anthony Rizzo by his third game in the bigs.

“He’s the new (Ben) Zobrist,” said Maddon, who previously batted Zobrist behind Rizzo and loves the idea of a switch-hitter there because of late-game bullpen matchups.

“It takes a lot of work and a lot of repetition,” said Happ, who started switch-hitting at 8, when his 14-year-old brother tried it. “He didn’t stick with it, but he made sure I did.”

Happ, a natural righthander, said his commitment has paid off with a natural feel from both sides. In 26 games at Triple-A Iowa this season he compiled a .911 OPS against righthanders and a 1.209 mark versus lefties.

Happ, the ninth overall pick in 2015 out of Cincinnati, believes it’s important to take a consciously separate approach to his swing mechanics. He feels like a different hitter from each side of the plate.

“I’m thinking about two different things (with) everything I’m working on,” Happ said.

“You’ve got to separate (your swings) so you can keep both sides the way you want them, because when they start to blend, that’s when you get in trouble.”

— Gordon Wittenmyer covers the Cubs for the Chicago Sun-Times

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