MESA, Ariz.—Switch-hitting second baseman Ian Happ lasted in his first big league camp until the final days, opening eyes, drawing an assignment to Triple-A Iowa and earning suggestions from team officials that a big league debut could be imminent.
“Listen, he’s a major league player, absolutely,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He is in the conversation (for 2017). Now it’s up to him to go out there and perform at a level that indicates that he’s ready right now.
“Spring training and the regular season, even in the minor leagues, is entirely different.”
Happ led the Cubs with 23 hits this spring and batted .383/.441/.750 for a team-leading 1.191 OPS. He blasted five home runs and seven doubles while driving in 21 runs in 29 games.
“I thought he improved defensively over the course of time here, which is great,” general manager Jed Hoyer said of the 22-year-old Happ, who can play second base and the corner outfield. He will work on even more versatility in the minors this year.
“Offensively, what was not to like?” Hoyer said. “He hit the ball hard every at-bat for six weeks. It’s always fun to see a young guy like that come in and open a lot of eyes.”
The No. 9 overall pick in the 2015 draft out of Cincinnati, Happ said he plans to focus on improving his defensive versatility and said he’ll be ready for a callup. He said he feels no pressure to live up to expectations or to keep the Cubs’ freight train of homegrown young hitters rolling.
“I think it’s almost the opposite of (pressure),” Happ said. “This team is so good and the lineup is so good that there isn’t any pressure, because it’s not on one guy’s shoulders.”
When could that call come?
“Whenever you’re in Triple-A, you’re always a call away,” Hoyer said. “Sometimes it happens quicker than you think. We never expected Addison Russell would be up in April of 2015, and I feel like Willson Contreras last year . . . I probably would have thought it would be more like a September callup.”
• Top prospect Eloy Jimenez, who aggravated an achy shoulder with a wild throw from left field in mid-March, opened the season on the disabled list after an MRI and CT scan revealed a bone bruise in the shoulder. The Cubs expect him to miss three weeks, then rehab back to strength.
• The Cubs returned Rule 5 pick Caleb Smith, the lefthander who pitched at Double-A and Triple-A in the Yankees system the past two years, after he pitched 6.1 innings in camp.
— Gordon Wittenmyer covers the Cubs for the Chicago Sun-Times