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2023 Cubs player profiles: Ian Happ, former BearCat and Pittsburgh-area native

The third in a series of capsule biographies. Ian Happ has a glorious past and his future destination is cloudy, but he can clearly do whatever he puts his mind to.

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Chicago Cubs v Cincinnati Reds
Ian Happ, LF #8 for your Chicago Cubs.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Pittsburgh-area native* Ian Happ was a first-round choice (ninth overall) of the Chicago Cubs in the 2015 Draft. He is an alum of the University of Cincinnati, and the former Bearcat has a leg up when he appears in the Great American Ballpark, having gone .322/.425/.730 with 16 homers and 37 RBI in 45 games as a Cub there.

“Ian Happ never leaves Cincinnati without a homer.” — Kyle Schwarber.

Happ is also a well-known aficionado of the effervescent bean, an ambassador for coffee through the kind offices of Connect Roasters, and a podcaster, whose ‘The Compound’** is frequently a Cub Tracks feature.

This is his contract year, Happ and the Cubs having failed to come to mutual agreement on a contract extension during the offseason, and the switch-hitter might well be headed to Free Agency after this season. He will be among the top, if not the very top, outfielder(s) available, if he gets to that point.

Nevertheless, we hope it is a mighty one. Happ’s numbers have been on the upturn since he was sent down to Triple-A to work on his swing four years ago, and he is starting to fulfill his enormous promise as an offensive player, while he has grown to play left field at a Gold Glove level after misfires in center field and in the infield.

Indeed there is considerable speculation that Happ might be moving on to another squad, and that might well depend on how the major-league franchise is doing. If the Cubs are having success, the likelihood of Happ staying all season is increased.

Neither Happ nor the Cubs’ brain-trust have closed the door on negotiations, but those are seldom done in-season these days, and we shall await further developments on that front.

Until then, Happ hits third in the lineup most days, has been walking a ton. He’s only hit one home run in 23 plate appearances but has already earned 0.5 WAR according to Fangraphs and 0.4 WAR according to Baseball Reference, with a small-sample .438 batting average and an eye-popping 1.359 OPS (his lifetime OPS is .803, which is pretty damn good).

Patrick Mooney of The Athletic says that Happ is on ‘a quest’ to ‘find another level of offense’ (subscription required), and that ‘overthinking’ wasn’t ‘on the agenda’.

Happ’s goal was simple: increase bat speed. The training wasn’t overly complicated either.

“It’s one of those things that isn’t too complicated, but if it leads to a mile an hour or two (added in bat speed), then it’s worth it,” Happ said. “So it’s just incorporating that into the offseason routine, swinging heavy and light weapons.”

Again, small sample-size, but this approach seems to be bearing fruit. I have to confess, in the interest of full disclosure, that I tabbed Happ as being the season’s-end leader on the team in home runs, beating both Patrick Wisdom, who had won the ‘title’ the two previous years, and newcomer Cody Bellinger (about whom we’ll have more next week), who I’ve tabbed as a likely candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, and out of whom I confidently expect 30+ HR.

The 28-year-old Happ (he’ll turn 29 August 12) would seem to be in the prime of his career, and poised for greater things. I’d like to have him remain a Cub, but I suspect he won’t after this year.

If the Cubs are winning, all bets are off. More of the family fortunes could be committed, based on record. It’s happened before. Over .500 at the All-Star Break would probably do the trick.

Happ can have a lot to do with that. He is at least in charge of his own fortune. How much of a fortune that will be remains to be seen.

Ian Happ will be tuned in to whatever negotiations take place. He’s the team’s player rep and loves to pay attention to the details (I wonder if the coffee has anything to do with that?) He was also an Academic All-America and has spoken before of wanting to take an active part in financial discussions.

It runs in the family. Ian’s younger brother Chris is a personal financial and business counselor to a number of MLB and NFL players, and is based in Chicago as well.

“Happ was the 50th Bearcat to be drafted in Cincinnati history, joining 2008 choices Josh Harrison (6th round) and Tony Campana (13th round), who both played for the Bearcats and were drafted by the Cubs. Kevin Youkilis, a former Bearcat and three-time MLB All-Star, is also a Cubs Scouting and Player Development consultant...”

I love the inside game. Ian Happ clearly has been careful to establish a solid base in the MLB firmament and will be well able to tackle anything the league has to offer. Real prospects, after all, don’t stop, as said in this prescient article (subscription required).

One wonders, given all of this, what Ian Happ’s ultimate ambitions in the game of baseball are. Until we determine that, we can assume he’ll never bore us.

Thanks for reading.


* In 2020, due to the lack of baseball, BCB undertook to broadcast the season as played in The Show 2020, live from the PS4 in my living room, and Happ was frequently referred to with this description by the game announcers, to the point that it has become a very inside joke in these parts.

We no longer refer to “young catcher Willson Contreras,” but sometimes our inner Heidi Watney is betrayed and we ‘flat-out’ refuse to be cowed.

** In 2021, Happ invested in Jomboy Media, a digital media company that produces content focused on sports and pop culture. As part of the investment, Happ agreed to host his podcast, The Compound, on the Jomboy Media network. Wiki.