This week on the MLBPipeline Podcast, host Tim McMaster and resident prospect gurus Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo discuss their most recent mock drafts and Mayo talks to top Draft prospect Hunter Greene. The following is a transcript of a segment from this week's episode of the Pipeline Podcast.
McMaster: A couple of top prospects have been called up to their big league clubs over the last week. I want to touch on that before we finish up this podcast. First it was Ian Happ, who has become a bit of a Cubs tradition. Happ homers in his debut. Starlin Castro homered in his debut. Javier Baez homered in his debut. Jorge Soler homered in his debut. There has been a run of them, and the latest is Ian Happ. I guess my first question is, we knew Happ was coming at some point, but how long is Happ going to be up with the Cubs? Jim, do you want to answer that one?
Callis: It's interesting, because he may change the narrative. He basically got called up because Kris Byrant was sick and Addison Russell was nicked up and Jon Jay was nicked up. He's off to a very good start in Triple-A and he was their best hitter in Spring Training, and the guy went ninth overall in the draft a couple of years ago because he can really hit. Everybody knew he could hit. I think he still has some polishing to do at second base. Almost every scout I talked to at the Arizona Fall League thinks he's more of an outfielder than a second baseman. But we always knew he could hit. So when he got called up, it was more, I think the result of the Cubs having three guys who were not capable of playing on an everyday basis but weren't injured or sick enough to go on the DL, and they needed another option.
Ian Happ was not on the 40-man roster, so it wasn't an easy move. But hey, the guy was your best hitter in Spring Training, he was their best hitter in Triple-A, so they bring him up. The thing is, he's homered twice now in three games, and he doubled in the other game, and he's looked very comfortable. He batted cleanup in his Wrigley Field debut. Is he gonna hit an extra-base hit every day? No. He's not going to do that. But this guy does have 20-20 potential. He's a very gifted hitter. Switch hitter. If he continues to hit like this, it may force them to rethink some things and maybe you don't send him down. Schwarber kind of did that a couple years ago when they called him up to DH when they had some American League games on tap. They called him up to DH and he did go back down, but then he came up for good earlier than most of us expected. I don't know if Ian Happ is going to stay with them for more than a week or two, but even if they send him back to Triple-A, he's certainly shown enough that maybe he'll be back up even without an obvious opening being created.
He does give them some flexibility because he can play multiple positions. He can play second. He can play all over the outfield, probably better on the corners. With him at second and Javy Baez -- he can play anywhere, too -- it gives them a lot of flexibility. I'll be very interested to see, because I don't see how you send him down while he's delivering an extra-base hit every day. Even after that tails off, he may have done enough to warrant staying up.
McMaster: At some point, there is a bigger-picture decision that needs to be made here, right? With Baez and now Happ? You knew eventually this was going to come. I think people expected at some point they would include Happ in a trade to bring back something. Now he's up in the big leagues and he's hitting the ball well. Javy Baez showed flashes in the postseason of being a great player, but the average is still low, he still strikes out a lot. Eventually, a bigger-picture decision needs to be made, doesn't it?
Mayo: Yeah. You can be a brilliant tactician in terms of moving guys with positional flexibility around, but at the end of the day, these guys need to play. Javy Baez, if you're going to maximize his offensive potential, has to be in the lineup every day. Because of that swing-and-miss stuff, he needs to get into that rhythm. Ian Happ, developmentally, you don't want him to not play. I agree with Jim in terms of the way he started is fantastic. And it certainly will make you pause. But I think that if push comes to shove, they rather send him back down to Triple-A just so he can get regular at-bats, until there is a need for him again. He's only 22. He doesn't turn 23 until August. It wouldn't shock me if they sent him down, even if he's swinging a really hot bat, especially if they told him, "Hey, you'll be up for this amount of time, and then you'll go back down." But hey, if in the end you want to use him to trade for some pitching back in return, what better way to showcase him than giving him a handful of at-bats in the big leagues, and having him go off like this, to show not only is he capable, but he's ready to contribute?
Callis: My guess is, in the long run too, and we don't know how its going to turn out, I would bet that Ian Happ winds up being a major part of a significant trade for the Cubs, because I think there is a big defensive gap. He is a better hitter than Javy Baez. Javy Baez is a much better defender at second base. Javy Baez, I think, is more versatile than Ian Happ and has more power. I've just talked to so many scouts who think Happ is more of an outfielder, and I really think the Cubs' corner outfielders, for the long term, are going to be Kyle Schwarber and Eloy Jimenez. It'll be very interesting to see, every couple of months, there is anther Cubs hitting prospect who scorches his way to the big leagues, but my gut tells me that in the end, Ian Happ is looking great right now, but it'll be hard for him to crack that lineup. He's very, very talented, but that lineup is so ridiculous as it projects out, unless they move Schwarber or Jimenez, I think Ian Happ probably gets traded in the long run.