Cubs sign Ian Happ hoping he's the next big hitter on deck


Cubs sign Ian Happ hoping he's the next big hitter on deck

The Cubs have Ian Happ on deck, hoping he will be another college hitter who moves rapidly through their farm system.

The Cubs reached an agreement with Happ, two sources confirmed Monday, giving the University of Cincinnati outfielder/second baseman a $3 million bonus and creating some financial flexibility to help sign other players from this year’s draft class.   

The below-slot deal – Major League Baseball assigned a value of $3.351 million to the No. 9 overall pick – will be formally announced once Happ passes a physical.

After a stop at the team’s Arizona complex, Happ will likely head to Eugene, the Class-A affiliate in Oregon that begins its short-season Northwest League schedule this week. 

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Happ certainly fits a Cubs Way profile, getting on base around 46 percent of the time during his three seasons as a Bearcat and finishing his college career with more walks (128) than strikeouts (116).

Happ is a switch-hitter who climbed the draft board during a standout junior year, batting .369 with 18 doubles, 14 homers, 44 RBI and a 1.164 OPS.

The Cubs didn’t draft Happ for his glove and will figure out the defensive fit later, knowing manager Joe Maddon values versatility.

“I don’t think I have one position as my best right now,” Happ said last week on draft night. “I’m comfortable in the outfield. I’m comfortable at second base. I’m excited to play whatever position the Cubs want me to play. I can’t wait to see where they want me.”

The Cubs have now used first-round picks on college hitters in each of the last three drafts, trying to build a relentless lineup that could play in the American League.

Kris Bryant – the No. 2 overall pick in 2013 – is already in the National League Rookie of the Year conversation. Kyle Schwarber – the No. 4 overall pick last year – is on his way to Wrigley Field.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

So there will be big expectations for Happ, who’s listed at 6-foot-0 and 205 pounds and could wind up being a super-utility guy.

“I don’t see him being Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber in terms of the home-run power,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs executive who oversees scouting and player development. “But at the same time, this is a guy who’s pretty physical.

“We definitely feel that there is strength there, and that he is a guy that’s going to be able to run into 15 home runs-plus, hitting for a high average. As you know, we’re really big on guys that control the strike zone and show that plate discipline. We trust our process and our evaluation on hitters, especially with college hitters.

“(After) all the workup that we did on him, we really feel that he was one of the top – if not the best – college hitter in this year’s draft. We feel really confident with that, and especially confident with who he is as a person. We feel he’s going to fit right in, along the lines of Kris Bryant and Kyle and some of the other guys that we’ve taken.”

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans


Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: