Cubs select college switch-hitter Ian Happ with No. 9 overall pick

SHARE Cubs select college switch-hitter Ian Happ with No. 9 overall pick

College arm? High school arm? Arm in a sling?

Never mind.

When it came time to make their call with the first round Monday, the Cubs ordered the usual – taking college hitter Ian Happ with the No. 9 overall pick in this year’s amateur draft.

The University of Cincinnati switch-hitter – considered one of the top three “pure hitters” among college talent in the draft by Baseball America – is the third consecutive college hitter the Cubs have selected with their top pick and fifth straight first-pick hitter overall.

“I definitely heard about the guys that have come before me,” said Happ, 20, who met last year’s No. 4 overall pick, Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber, last year. “I’m really excited to add to the college bats that are coming through and hopefully be the next one to move through the system.”

The Cubs took another college hitter with their second round pick (47th overall) Monday selecting left-handed hitting outfielder Donnie Dewees of the University of North Florida.

Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ top scouting and player development executive, said the Cubs liked all three pitchers drafted ahead of their pick: UC-Santa Barbara right-hander Dillon Tate (fourth), Illinois left-hander Tyler Jay (seventh) and the White Sox’ pick, Vanderbilt’s Carson Fullmer (eighth).

“We certainly don’t walk away from pitching,” McLeod said, stressing the club’s best-player-available philosophy. “We’ve talked also about how the history of the draft will tell you if players are close on evaluations, the college hitter is the way to go. They usually pan out the best.”

The Cubs were linked to a handful of pitchers leading up to the draft and as of Sunday had not ruled out the potentially high-risk, high-reward option of last year’s No. 1 overall pick, left-hander Brady Aiken – whose health issues caused the Houston Astros to rescind their original signing agreement.

Aiken, who had Tommy John surgery in March, was selected 17th overall by the Cleveland Indians Monday. McLeod said he was well liked by Cubs officials and will be watched with a personal interest going forward.

Meanwhile, Happ, an outfielder who also has played second base (and occasional shortstop), joins a stable of young hitting talent amassed by the fourth-year front office.

A gap-power hitter with what McLeod estimates to be 15-plus home run potential, is the kind of disciplined hitter the Cubs covet, with a .463 career on-base percentage in three years at UC, including more walks (128) than hits (116).

His hitting mentor since high school has been fellow Pittsburgh native Sean Casey, a three-time All-Star with a lifetime .367 on-base percentage, who twice in his big-league career had at least as many walks as strikeouts.

“Case and I have known each other for about four years,” said Happ, who met Casey through an assistant coach while at Mount Lebanon High in Pittsburgh. “He’s given me so much valuable information through his experiences, especially pertaining to the mental side.

“He’s really coached me through the mental side of the game, how to approach at-bats, how to approach consistency every day, how to have quality at-bats and to find success, baseball being such a failure-oriented sport.”

The biggest question mark might be where Happ eventually fits defensively – having played center field, right field and both middle infield spots in colleg.e

“Certainly he’s a versatile player and athletic,” McLeod said, describing manager Joe Maddon’s favorite kind of player. “We’re not going to put any limitations right now on where he will play. We’re looking forward to getting him in the organization and getting his professional career started, and we’ll let that play out where he plays defensively.”

Like No. 4 overall pick Kyle Schwarber a year ago, Happ also gives the Cubs the potential to sign their first-round pick for below the slot allotment (of $3.351 million) – allowing them to turn their attention to over-slot-quality picks in later rounds.

“We didn’t take him with the financial aspect of it in mind,” McLeod said. “Last year worked out great with what we were able to do with Kyle. Certainly, we have an idea where the signing might come in, but that’s something we still need to discuss with his advisor.

“We hope to get that done here, hopefully, pretty soon.”

The 6-foot, 205-pound Happ is a two-time All-Star in the prestigious Cape Cod League and was a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award for top college player in the country.

This is the Cubs’ fifth consecutive year with a single-digit overall pick – and what they hope will be their last of those for many years as the big-league club takes a competitive turn this season.

With those previous four, they selected prep shortstop Javier Baez in 2011 (ninth overall), prep outfielder Albert Almora in 2012 (sixth), college third baseman Kris Bryant in 2013 (second) and college catcher Schwarber last year.

In 13 years overseeing drafts in Boston and Chicago, Epstein never has spent a pick higher than 19th overall on a pitcher.

The 40-round draft resumes Tuesday and continues through Wednesday.

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