Cubs

Happ's emotional swing: Non-tender candidate to All-Star

Cubs

Ian Happ has experienced plenty of ups and downs in his career, but none more pronounced than the last 12 months.

A year ago, Happ was in a deep slump and looked like a non-tender candidate.

This week, he’s in Los Angeles, representing the Cubs alongside Willson Contreras in the MLB All-Star Game.

Could Happ have experienced a bigger emotional swing?

“I don't know,” the Cubs left fielder said. “From being in a spot where you're hitting [.175] in August last year and the lows of that point to where it is now, it's crazy. It's crazy.”

It also leaves the Cubs with a decision to make. Happ is a potential trade candidate before the deadline in two weeks.

He’s also under club control through next season and could be a building block for “the next great Cubs team.”

Happ’s career has been defined by extreme peaks and valleys offensively, but his deepest struggles came last year. His slash line sat at .183/.296/.330 in 77 games at the All-Star break.

He was a part-time player in a Cubs outfield group that still included Kris Bryant, Joc Pederson and Jake Marisnick.

When the Cubs moved that trio of players in their July selloff, it opened up every day playing time for Happ. And he ran with the opportunity.

Happ had a torrid two months to end 2021 and has carried it over this season. Since Aug. 1, 2021, he’s hitting .279/.364/.496 with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs in 145 games.

 

Happ’s strong calendar year that led into this first All-Star nod is the type of consistency that evaded him at times in past seasons.

Ian Happ 'lucky' to be drafted by Cubs in 2015

“I definitely played with guys who have had a little bit of a smoother road,” Happ said. “I felt like when I first came up [in 2017], I showed spurts of this and ability. Different things happen through the course of a career, a season, that lead to ups and downs. 

“Sometimes, you just have to learn a lot along the way. You have to take a lot in, and it takes time. It takes at-bats, it takes experiences, whatever those are — whether it’s physically or mentally to feel like you can do this every day at a high level.

"Fortunately, I was able to get that.”

Happ’s turnaround goes beyond his slash line. The switch-hitter is crushing left-handed pitching this season, an area he struggled his first five big-league campaigns. 

He's striking out less than ever this season and also tallied 5 Defensive Runs Saved in left field, currently a personal best.

“Identifying where you want to improve and continue to believe in yourself is a really hard thing to do when you go through some adversity at this level and have extended moments where you don't play up to your capabilities,” manager David Ross said of Happ.

“To come back from that is really rewarding and I'm sure gratifying for him. I love that he's identified the areas that he wants to improve.

"I think consistency — I say it over and over again – it's so hard to do at this level," Ross added. "He identified that’s something he wants to be better at and did it. We've had some really tough conversations over my time here. I just love to see players overcome stuff like that."

Happ noted getting that opportunity to play every day after the deadline was a big part of working through his struggles, as well as the coaches and people around him.

“Jason Heyward was a huge part of that, in the middle of last year,” Happ said. “Having him after the deadline, talking through things, working through mental stuff, and getting to this point. 

“He’s been here the whole way, but a big part of that turnaround.”

Seeing Happ — a homegrown talent and former first-round pick — break out this season is an organizational win for the Cubs.

"It's really easy to believe in a guy like Ian Happ," Ross said. "We have a ton of guys that we believe in and feel like there's areas where we all can improve — myself included. We're all in this together. 

“As an organization you love to see guys reach an All-Star-type-status player and get rewarded with this accolade. 

“For me, all the credit goes to him and his belief in himself and the mental toughness where you continue to improve your game and have high expectations for yourself.”

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