ST. LOUIS – Ian Happ pivoted from his talking points when a reporter mentioned his reputation as a defender, flashing another side to the reserved, professional demeanor the Cubs noticed in spring training as he blended in with the defending World Series champs.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Happ said. “Everybody does their scouting reports coming out of college and that was just something that caught wind and caught a little bit of helium.
“It’s blown up that I stink at fielding. So I’m not really sure how that came about, but I feel like I can play multiple positions well. And that’s what I try to do.”
Manager Joe Maddon brought it up during his media session after Happ made another strong impression in Sunday’s 5-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium: “He’s always been branded as a hitter, but he’s a lot more than that.”
The day after blasting a two-run homer off Carlos Martinez in his big-league debut, Happ got two hits off Adam Wainwright, made a sliding catch in right field and moved over to play center. That in-game flexibility as a switch-hitter and a second baseman is what the Cubs envisioned when they drafted Happ out of the University of Cincinnati with the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft.
The last two pennant races have seen Theo Epstein’s front office aggressively promote prospects like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras, with Maddon’s coaching staff trusting them in key moments for playoff teams. So while the Cubs made this decision in response to a wave of injuries, Happ’s offensive upside and defensive versatility could force the issue again.
“Absolutely, if he keeps doing (this), it’s hard to say that you don’t want him here any longer,” Maddon said. “There’s other ways to fit him in. But, again, all I want him to do is attack today. Literally, enjoy the moment. Don’t overthink it. Control what he can. Again, I don’t want to go psychobabble. But that’s what he needs to do.
“We know how good he is. We know what he means to our future. Go play, and let us figure out the rest. Of course, the team, roster-wise, is in a state of flux now, based on different guys being banged up. But all Ian has to worry about is to continue to do what he did in camp, what he’s been doing at Triple-A, and let us make that decision.”
Staying in character, Happ will try not to think about those big-picture discussions over developing every day at Iowa vs. being on call for an 18-19 team looking for a spark.
“Come to the park every day, try to help the team win,” Happ said. “That’s all I can do."