SAN FRANCISCO — There isn’t one path for development in the big leagues. While some players have thrived since they were first called up, that’s not the case for most. For them, it’s a grind to get to the majors and a grind to stay there and succeed.
Cubs center fielder Ian Happ has seen all sides of it a few years into his MLB career. After arriving in 2017 with 24 homers in 115 games, things took a turn. He didn’t make the roster out of camp in 2019. Then his strong performance at the end of 2019 carried over into last year’s
abbreviated season, when he was the Cubs’ best offensive player.
Happ has had a slow start in 2021, but after returning from the injured list May 15, he finished the month slashing .292/.387/.585 with four doubles, five homers and a 164 wRC+.
“It’s part of the game,” said Happ, who went 0-for-4 on Friday night in the Cubs’ 8-5 loss to the Giants. “That’s why we love playing and competing. Being a lefty at Wrigley in April is tough, but I hit .290ish last month with a .900 OPS. I had a great May.
“You can only claw back so much after what happened in April, and so you have to be able to put that behind you and continue moving on. I know there’s four months left in the season, and [if] you continue to do things the right way, like in May, at the end of the year, the results will be there.”
Happ knows firsthand how the rest of MLB adjusts to new, young players — and continues to adjust as those players evolve. Whether it’s mechanics, timing, different pitches or even pitch shapes, the chess of looking at scouting reports and figuring out how to counter players’ strengths doesn’t stop.
“There’s always things you work on throughout the season for mechanics and timing,” Happ said. “Timing is everything in this game, so we’re always trying to maintain that. And I’m making sure my timing is where I want it.
“I think it’s more as preparation and getting in the box and just really focusing on what’s happening on the field, the opposing pitcher — that’s always the focus. That’s always trying to work on mechanics early and eliminate as much of that going [forward].
Happ’s quest for growth after experiencing the highs and lows of the game isn’t an uncommon story. Several Cubs who have been called up recently are also going through it. Third baseman Patrick Wisdom and outfielder Rafael Ortega — 29 and 30, respectively, aren’t young players but still strive to be newer versions of themselves with the Cubs.
“I learned so much about myself one early on, and just trying to find a routine,” said manager David Ross, a vet of 15 major-league seasons. “You’re always learning more. . . . I don’t think that ever changes. Guys are constantly learning. The game is changing, the game’s evolving. You have to do that as well.
“You get to a point where you’re established and you understand your routine and your role. And I think that’s where a lot of guys that have come up, those guys that have been up in the big leagues, [they] understand. They just need to come up, compete and play their game and they’re very comfortable in that.”