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May 22, 2017

On Friday, I wrote about the impact that slugging rookie Ian Happ could have on the Cubs offense. He’s already shown off his impressive bat and there’s an increasing likelihood that the Cubs will keep him around rather than send him back to the minors. After doing more damage against the Brewers over the weekend, Happ’s now up to .346/.452/.731. He’s played every game since being called up May 13, and looks more and more likely to stick.

Happ’s presence might do more than merely add one potent bat to the lineup, though. The Cubs offense has been scuffling this season, with four players (Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, and Willson Contreras) performing far below career norms, 2017 expectations, or both. Manager Joe Maddon loves to use players at multiple positions, with Zobrist being the prototype. Likewise, Happ has shown he can play multiple positions: He’s already manned all three outfield spots in his first seven big league games, he played second base extensively in the minors, and he’s worked out at the corner infield spots too, suggesting that those could also be in play.

If Happ continues to hit, and gets shuffled all over the field, Maddon will have free rein to coax the best possible results out of everyone else. That could mean giving Russell a day off against a particularly tough right-handed pitcher or the nearly-36-year-old Zobrist more days off to stay fresh. It would also allow Schwarber to face the kinds of pitchers he’s best equipped to face as he works to dig himself out of a season-long slump. Happ’s presence could also enabled dinged-up players to rest, and give slumpers some needed time off. It could fortify the bench, with capable players like Albert Almora and Jon Jay more likely to contribute as key part-timers. Further, The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma notes that Happ playing regularly could also lead to tinkering with lineup order, further allowing Maddon to get the matchups he wants in the order he wants them.

If all that sounds like a lot to ask of a 22-year-old rookie, remember that five of the 10 most often used Cubs position players last season were 24 and younger. Last season, it turns out, went pretty well.

9. Baltimore Orioles (25–17, plus-12, LT: 6)

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