No scholarships: Cubs option struggling Ian Happ to minors
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MESA, Ariz. — The year of ‘‘reckoning’’ in 2019 that Cubs president Theo Epstein forecast in November started five days before the season opener when Ian Happ was optioned Saturday to Class AAA Iowa.
‘‘Obviously, we consider him a huge part of our future,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘But just based on the conclusion of last year and what we’re seeing to this point [in the spring], we think it’s really important [to do it this way].’’
Happ, who wasn’t available to media after the move was made, didn’t take it well, Maddon said.
‘‘He was surprised, and he’s not happy,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘I really don’t blame him.’’
Happ, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2015 draft, debuted less than two years later and hadn’t been back to the minors despite more career strikeouts (296) than hits and walks combined (291).
Used much of last season as the left-handed piece of a center-field platoon with Albert Almora Jr., the switch-hitting Happ’s production fell off dramatically in the second half. In the final 60 games, he hit .196 with a .653 OPS and a 37 percent strikeout rate.
Happ had been working on his left-handed swing since then, but he hadn’t made enough progress to make keeping him on the roster a better move than having him load up on lefty at-bats in the minors.
‘‘It was a unanimous decision among the room,’’ Maddon said, referring to staff and front-office execs. ‘‘It’s not like it was an outlier. We all concluded the same thing. We had a great meeting. Everybody had an opportunity to speak, and we all felt the same way, which pretty much means you’ve got to do something like that.’’
Among the short-term effects of the move is the potential for more playing time for Almora.
‘‘We’ll see how that plays out,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘But don’t forget Daniel Descalso, either. Don’t forget [Ben] Zobrist. Don’t forget moving [Jason] Heyward to center. All that stuff is part of the mix still.’’
Heyward, a Gold Glove right fielder, and Almora are the only trusted center fielders left on the projected roster. Descalso and Zobrist figure primarily into the second-base picture, but both have corner-outfield experience.
Maddon wouldn’t say who might fill Happ’s vacated roster spot, but cuts Saturday left 12 eligible players in camp for the 12 projected position-player spots, including outfielder Mark Zagunis.
It’s also possible the Cubs could add a player before their opener Thursday to fill an opening.
‘‘GMs and presidents are still looking at waiver wires this time of the year to see if there’s any way to make you better than you are right now,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘It definitely can happen.’’
The Cubs have no timeline on a return for Happ.
‘‘We do anticipate in the beginning it’s going to be a tough adjustment,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘Anytime you send a guy back to Triple-A that’s been in the big leagues a bit, it’s a dramatic mind shift — dramatic.
‘‘You have to anticipate that. It’s up to the athlete to make the adjustment and understand, ‘I’ve got to get my head on right, so that I get back up there ASAP.’ Not that he’s looking for it, but injuries do occur. But you have to be ready when the injury occurs.’’