Why Cubs' Ian Happ's rare switch-hitting power even more valuable

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How valuable is Ian Happ's rare switch-hitting power? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

They asked Ian Happ to stop switch-hitting as a freshman at the University of Cincinnati.

He said forget it.

Three years later, the Cubs drafted him ninth overall. Two years after that, he and Pirates rookie Josh Bell both surpassed Chipper Jones’ National League rookie record for a switch hitter of 23 home runs — both coming up just short of the major-league record of 27 shared by Eddie Murray and Tony Clark.

And on Sunday, the man the Cubs would have traded for a good price less than four weeks ago, hit career home run No. 100 — already a rarity for a switch-hitter.

With basically five full big-league seasons under his belt by the time he finishes the season, what if he plays seven more years? Ten?

Could he hits 250 homers — joining the likes of Clark and Bernie Williams?

Even 300?

That’s where the air gets very rarified; only nine switch-hitters in history have done that — a list topped by Mickey Mantle, Murray and Jones.

Imagine that?

“It’s really hard to filter,” Happ said. “I don’t know how.”

For now, the kid who started working at switch-hitting as an 8-year-old — and just turned 28 this month — still seems to be reveling in the fact he survived the trade deadline still wearing a Cubs uniform.

“This was one of the things that as the deadline was going past I wanted to get to 100 before my time here was done,” said Happ Sunday after becoming the 26th Cub overall to reach that mark. “Being able to be here and get a chance to do it is really special to me.”

Whether surviving the deadline without being traded eventually leads to a contract extension and long-term place in the Cubs’ plans for their “next great Cubs team” before he’s eligible for free agency after next year, Happ already has made history as the Cubs’ franchise leader in home runs for a switch hitter.

And that rare combination of power from both sides of the plate is a big part of the conversation over his value — especially after making so much improvement from the right side this season.

“To be able to do it from both sides of the plate and have that performance this year from both sides is something I take pride in,” said Happ, who platooned almost exclusively against right-handers from the left side last year because of the right-side issues.

Happ, who considered himself a full-time switch hitter from the time he was a high school freshman in the Pittsburgh area, grew up admiring and emulating the likes of power-hitting switch hitters Jones and Mark Teixeira.

Last week in Washington, he joined a list of MLB elites with a two-homer game — putting him among six players with at least 11 homers in each of their first six seasons in the majors: also Mantle, Murray, Teixeira, Ruben Sierra and José Cruz Jr.

With so much career left and a first All-Star selection in hand with this all-around breakout year, it’s tempting to imagine the kind of numbers Happ might put up before it’s done, how many more milestones he might hit — and how the Cubs, or another team, might value the kind of impact he might offer from both sides of the plate.

Only 29 switch-hitters in history have hit 200 home runs; only 14 have hit 250.

And those nine with at least 300 have 16 combined World Series rings, all but the last guy on the list, Ruben Sierra (306), without one.

The others: Mantle (536 homers, seven rings), Murray (504, one), Jones (468, one), Carlos Beltran (435, one), Teixeira (409, one), Lance Berkman (366, one), Chili Davis (350, three) and Reggie Smith (314, one).

Whether it’s the rookie mark he hit, the franchise switch-hitting record or any of the other milestones, Happ calls it “humbling” just to think about the other names on some of the lists.

“It’s something I take a lot of pride in,” he said, adding the 100th-homer milestone. “I’m fortunate to have played here for as long as I have and had the games to do it.

“It’s unbelievable.”

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