Ian Happ has 875 major-league plate appearances in 257 games over the last two seasons. He’s produced 39 home runs and an .801 OPS.
You’d think that would be enough to keep the 24-year-old outfielder in the big leagues, but there are also 296 strikeouts in those 875 PA, and he hit .135/.196/.192 (7-for-52 with three doubles and 14 strikeouts) in spring training games this year.
And so perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a big surprise when Happ was optioned to Triple-A Iowa Saturday.
With Happ having departed, though, the question is raised: Who will make the 25-man roster instead of him?
To me, there’s really only one choice.
The Cubs will begin the season with 12 position players, as will most teams. These 11 are now locks to make the Opening Day roster.
Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini
Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, David Bote, Daniel Descalso
Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward
Bote will back up shortstop, second base and third base; Descalso plays second and third and could, in a pinch, play shortstop and outfield. Veteran backup infielder Cristhian Adames was reassigned to the minor-league camp on Saturday.
We know that Zobrist and Bryant can also play outfield positions if needed. But there’s really no player on that list who solely plays outfield.
That’s why I think Mark Zagunis will make his first big-league Opening Day roster. Zagunis plays left and right field, and has had a good spring: .333/.400/.718 (13-for-39) with three doubles and four home runs. The on-base percentage is the key here, I think. That’s been the best thing Zagunis has done in his five seasons in the system. He has a .400 career OBP in the minor leagues in 2,057 plate appearances. In his handful of brief big-league callups he’s just 2-for-19 — but with five walks, turning a .105 BA into a .292 OBP.
So he could be useful off the bench, perhaps drawing walks as a pinch-hitter.
I think it’ll be Zagunis as the last guy on the bench, although here’s a hint the Cubs are still trying to obtain outside help:
Maples and Taylor Davis optioned to AAA, Adames and Field assigned to minor league camp. That leaves 12 position players, not including Russell, in MLB camp. Including Zagunis. But don't rule out more moves before start of season.— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) March 24, 2019
And if Ian Happ would like some solace — he was reportedly quite upset at the demotion — he ought to talk to his teammate, Kyle Schwarber, who was similarly demoted in 2017. In the middle of a season, no less, and after 539 regular-season plate appearances and being a World Series hero. Schwarber returned and has been productive. Happ can do the same, if he works on the parts of his game that need work (mainly, the strikeouts).
It’s not official yet, but I’ll give preliminary congratulations to Mark Zagunis on making the Opening Day roster. I’d expect this to not be officially announced until Wednesday, or perhaps even Thursday morning, though by then we’d certainly know who was in Arlington, Texas, for the opener.
Four days to go!
Who will be the final position player added to the Cubs’ Opening Day roster?
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