Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ still struggling with strikeouts in Triple-A

(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs are hoping some time with the Triple-A Iowa club will help improve Ian Happ’s strikeout rate.

When the Chicago Cubs announced that Ian Happ would be starting the season with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, many fans were shocked at the move. Happ figured to break camp with the big league club and platoon center field with Albert Almora. However, given Happ’s 2018 campaign that saw him strikeout in 36.1 percent of his plate appearances, the demotion is also not surprising.

Considered to be one of the top prospects, Happ was drafted ninth overall in the 2015 MLB Draft out of the University of Cincinnati. He slashed 0.369/0.492/0.672 with 14 home runs and 44 runs batted in in his final season with the Bearcats. Happ spent 2015 through part of 2017 working his way up the Cubs minor league system and got the call up to the show on May 13, 2017.

Happ homered in his first game with the Cubs in a 3-5 loss to the Cardinals. He would finish the 2017 season with a slash line of 0.253/0.328/0.514 to go along with 24 home runs and 68 runs batted in. Despite striking out in 31.2 percent of his plate appearances in 2017, it was fairly easy to ignore given his production at the plate.

2018 was his first full season with the major league squad. He struck out in 36.1 percent of his plate appearances and finished with a slash line of 0.233/0.353/0.408. Although he improved his walk percentage to 15.2 percent from 9.4 percent in 2017, Happ dropped off in terms of producing at the plate. He had just 15 home runs and 56 runs batted in. It was not exactly the season he had envisioned.

Flash forward to 2019 spring training, he appeared to be headed down the wrong road again. In 17 games, he was slashing 0.135/0.196/0.192 with a 26.9 percent strikeout rate. So Happ was demoted to the Triple-A affiliate to figure out some things. However, through six games and 29 at-bats, Happ’s problems at the plate are still an issue as he’s struck out in 31.0 percent of his plate appearances.

He does have eight runs batted in and three doubles in those six games, but has not hit any home-runs as of yet. Fans can likely live with his near 30 percent strikeout rate, but it became a glaring eyesore when he stopped producing at the plate last season. The second half of 2018 was particularly glaring where Happ batted just 0.196 with just four home runs. Happ will likely remain in Triple-A until he can cut down on the strikeouts.

The is fairly common in Major League Baseball. A young baseball prospect gets the promotion to the big league club and does well, but then the league adjusts to him. He either adjusts back or gets sent down to figure out some things. For example, Anthony Rizzo, who is now arguably the Cubs best hitter, struck out in 30.1 percent of his plate appearances when called up to the Padres in 2011. After being traded to the Cubs, Rizzo spent some time with the Triple-A club as well and is now consistently at or less than 15.0 percent.

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Ian Happ is still just 24 years old and has plenty of time to figure things out, but the Cubs would prefer he do so sooner rather than later. He figures to be a crucial part of the Cubs offense going forward, especially if he produces numbers similar to 2017.