This will be the second season in a row that the Chicago Cubs don’t have a confirmed leadoff hitter going into Opening Day. If you recall, last year was the “let’s see if Kyle Schwarber can hit leadoff” experiment that promptly blew up in Joe Maddon’s face which forced the team to use any and everyone they could to try and fill that void. Maddon isn’t waiting until Opening Day to try to find a leadoff solution for 2018 and has made it known to everyone that he is looking at every possibility — and he’s using Spring Training as an audition.
The favorite thus far in Spring Training has been second year player Ian Happ. Happ has been murdering Spring Training pitching (yes, I know it’s only Spring Training pitching) and has the stats to back that up. He’s boasting a 1.690 OPS and a .500 OBP which has to make you happy if your leadoff hitter can get on base at that clip. Also, Happ has once again shown some surprising power. Showing power has never been a staple of being a good lead off hitter so the fact that Happ can go deep at any point is just icing on the cake.
— North Side Update (@NsUpdate) February 27, 2018
Happ also has made it known that he wants a shot to leadoff for the Cubs in 2018 for one reason — more at-bats.
He told the Sun-Times,
“The biggest difference in the leadoff role is that you’re going to get more at-bats. You’re going to get five every day.”
Happ also shared that he reached out to former Cub fan favorite (and former leadoff man), Dexter Fowler. He reached out to Fowler last season when Fowler’s Cardinals were in Chicago and they spoke about a variety of issues. Happ was amazed when he heard what made Fowler such a great leadoff hitter for the Cubs during his time on the North Side.
“And I’ve heard him say that before, and I’ve heard people say that was always his thought: that he was just always trying to get on base twice a game, whether it was two walks, hit and a walk, couple hits, whatever.”
Happ has already apparently taken Fowler’s approach at the plate in the leadoff spot and he understands the importance of that role.
“They (Leadoff hitters) understand that if they’re going to have a good day and help the team, they’ve got to get on base twice.”
The fact that Happ has borrowed his leadoff philosophy from Dexter Fowler is a good thing to me. Fans saw quickly last season how important Fowler (and the leadoff spot) was and what could happen if you don’t have a good table setter at the top of your lineup. I mean shit, without “You go, we go” the Cubs didn’t “go” very well at all.
Granted, we’re only a week into March so I’m not crowning Happ as the solution to leading off the game because I still think Zobrist or Almora Jr. could be viable options. However, if Happ continues to get on base at the rate he’s doing in Spring Training, Joe Maddon should have a pretty easy time filling out his lineup card come April.