TDG’S Triple Play: Chicago Cubs!
The Triple Play is back for a sixth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Ian Happ, Age: 28, Position: OF
Analysis by: The Roto Red
“HALLO. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE A ROLL IN THE HAY?”
Ian Happ was drafted ninth overall in the 2015 draft after batting .369 with 14 homers, 18 doubles, and 12 stolen bases for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Happ made quick work of the lower minors and started the 2017 season with Triple A Iowa where he excelled (144 wRC+). In May 2017, with the Cubs’ injuries piling up (Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, Jon Jay, Kris Bryant), Happ was promoted to Chicago for the first time. Happ went on to play in 115 games for the Cubbies that year, putting up a 114 wRC+ with 62 runs, 24 homers, 68 RBIs, and eight stolen bases. Fast forward to 2022, Happ had a great year: an All-Star, a Gold Glover, and hit the third-most doubles in the National League.
“I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU NEVER TO INTERRUPT ME WHILE I’M WORKING!”
After the success of 2022, Happ hoped to turn some of those doubles by increasing his bat speed over the off-season. Per the Athletic’s article, Happ was inspired by Lars Nootbaar’s well-documented success with Driveline. Happ is quoted in the article, saying that both his righty and lefty swings “were up a couple [of] miles and hour.” Did results follow? So far, compared to the 2022 season, not in the obvious ways. His average exit velocity is about the same and his maximum exit velocity and ISO are down. Did his off-season training help anything?
“WALK THIS WAY.”
Maybe. His great plate discipline from 2022 has now reached elite levels. Happ’s 16.4% walk rate is fifth in the majors, which is an increase of 7.4% since last season. He is in the 89th percentile in chase rate. His .396 OBP is 13th in the league. Happ has turned into a walk-taking monster!
“IT’S PRONOUNCED FRONKENSTEEN!”
Actually, Happ has transformed into a Frankenstein, combining some of his best attributes from past seasons into his 2023 self, along with a couple of his worst. Best walk rate of his career. His strikeout rate hovers near his career low from 2022. His line drive percentage is exceeding his previous career best from 2020. His ground-ball rate is lower than his previous career low from 2018. His launch angle has increased almost to his 2019 levels. These are all good indicators for production at the plate. However, as I said earlier, not all of the Frankenstein parts are good. Happ has been popping the ball up at his worst rate since 2019. His fly-ball rate is almost at his career low from 2020. And his barrel percentage is barely higher than his career-low in 2022. What kind of hitter does that leave us with?
“WAIT MASTER, IT MIGHT BE DANGEROUS . . . YOU GO, FIRST.”
One with everything but the home run ball (and the runs and RBI that go with them). Personally, I think that the pop-up issue is fixable and once that is corrected, Happ will really take off. In standard scoring, the cost of acquisition may be deflated because of the lackluster power numbers so far in 2023. But like the Cubs did just a month ago (when they signed him through 2026), I would look to pounce. I believe that Happ could go 20/10 over the rest of this season, cementing himself as a solid second outfielder for dynasty managers (and even better in OBP leagues).
Wait. Where are you going? I was going to make Espresso.
Hayden Wesneski, Age: 25, Position: SP
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
The current group of Cubs starting pitchers are either vets we all know about (Stroman, Smyly, Hendricks, and Taillon) or just got hurt (Justin Steele), and the bullpen is pretty bleh (Adbert Alzolay’s long climb to the closer role notwithstanding) so let’s take a look at a popular pre-season sleeper, but who was just demoted to long reliever, one Hayden Gregory Wesneski. (With headers provided by beers from Revolution Brewing, Chicago, Illinois).
The 6’3”, 210-pound righthander is also a known player, thanks to being a Yankees prospect (how the Yankees come up with pitching prospects consistently enough to trade them for value is the most impressive part of their team the last decade or so. Further aside, I think if he stays in NY “The Wez” would have been his nickname, but I digress). In 2016 he was drafted by the Rays out of high school (33rd round) and decided that was not good enough and went to Sam Houston State University for three seasons, and was drafted by the Yankees in the 6th round in 2019. Acquired by the Cubs last August 1st for reliever Scott Effross, Wesneski pitched well in 33 innings for the Cubbies. Starting four games and appearing in six, he compiled a K/9 of 9.00 and a BB/9 of only 1.91 along with a 2.18 ERA, leading him to the aforementioned sleeper status as the fifth member of the Cubs 2023 rotation out of camp.
2023 did not start well, with Wesneski giving up eight earned runs over his first two starts, at Cincinnati and at home against Seattle. A trip to Oakland yielded a seven-inning of one run ball gem, though he followed that with only 4.1 innings pitched and three earned runs versus the Dodgers. Three straight great performances followed, giving up only one earned run per game against the Padres, Nationals and Marlins, and it looked to be the beginning of a nice roll, with his next start at Minnesota.
Deth by Currants
After giving up seven runs against the Twins on May 13th, the Cubs demoted Wesneski to Triple-A Iowa. He started two games and gave up one earned run over two starts. They recalled him last week, and he took over for Justin Steele when Steele came out of the game due to injury. If Steele’s injury lingers, look for Wesneski to re-enter the rotation.
Why would we want to look at a guy pitching poorly, you ask? To see if there’s future value, of course. When tracking minor league pitchers, the easiest stat to assess if I want to add a guy, or trade for him, is his walk rate. His career minor league numbers: 296 Ks, a 3.59 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over 278 innings pitched. His walk rate: 2.72. Anything under three and my ears perk up (not that I heard that walk rate, but I definitely felt it whispered some sweet nothings). Wesneski also has a decent, not great, K rate of 9.58. If he can maintain those as a big leaguer, he will have a long career.
Given a 50 Future Value grade on Fangraphs, with a fastball that tops out at 94 mph, a changeup, and a killer slider/sweeper (watch this video of Wesneski’s insane movement on it, it’s only 49 fun seconds long) it is wise not to give up on Weskeski just yet. Especially in dynasty leagues, now is the time to go get ya boy. Rostered in 53% of Fantrax leagues and only 9% of Yahoo ones, Wesneski is a player to capitalize on getting right now when his value is at its nadir.
B.J. Murray Jr., Age: 23, Position: 3B, Level: Double-A
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
Born Bertram Gerard Alfonzo Murray in Nassau, Bahamas, he moved to Florida when Murray was 14-years-old. Murry hails from a baseball family, including a grandfather who played for the Bahamas National Team. Undrafted out of high school, he attended Florida Atlantic University. A switch-hitter, his last season in school saw Murray start all 57 games, hit 14 homers with a .311 average and OPS of 1.007. While that didn’t lead Murray to being a high pick in the 2021 draft, he was drafted way down in the 15th round, pick 454 overall. The draft spot didn’t phase Murray as he said at the time:
“I wanted to play professional baseball. It was the best feeling in the world. I mean, that’s something I’ve been dreaming of. A lot of emotions flowed, but it was the best day of my life.”
The solidly built, 5’10”, 205-pound Murray got right to work in 2021 after being drafted; getting 56 at-bats for the Cubs Complex League team, slashing .286/.344/.482. 2022 saw Murray move from Single-A Myrtle Beach in only 30 games to High-A Southbend, where he slashed .273/.388/.406 the rest of the season. While a little light in the power department (only eight home runs between the two A-Ball stops), the Cubs gave Murray a nice surprise and sent him to the Arizona Fall League as a reward for a good season.
There have been only eight players to make it to the Show from the Bahamas, and Murray wants to be the next one. However, the Bahamas did not have enough native Bahamians to field a team in the recent World Baseball Classic they joined Team Great Britain with Murray starting at third base. In four games, hit two doubles and knock in two with a .313 OBP, and helped Great Britain win their first game. It was a good omen to begin the 2023 season.
The Cubs have been aggressive with Murray, and felt he was ready for a bigger challenge in 2023, starting the season for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. Productivity has been the name of the game so far in 2023; Murray’s stats as of this writing: seven homers, four steals, 59 Runs + RBI and a slash line of .271/.403/.523 in 155 at-bats. Along with 14 doubles and an impressive 17.3% walk rate to an average 23% strikeout rate, Murray is showing the Cubs were right to start him at Double-A. Here’s a video of Murray hitting homers from both sides of the plate, just a few weeks ago: (https://www.milb.com/video/bj-murray-homers-from-both-sides?t=playerid-681230)
Much higher up on Cubs prospect lists Owen Cassie, who moved up from Southbend to Tennessee together with Murray had this to say about him:
“He doesn’t really like to get fazed by anything. I try to learn from him honestly. He’s just a really good guy, somebody you can talk to, a great friend and a great teammate. But outside the field, he’s really chill, and I enjoy being around him.”
That’s high praise for any person, and even better as a teammate.
Defensively it appears he needs some work, but that is what the minors are for. The Cubs do not have a lot standing in front of Murray top get to the starting third base spot. The 30th ranked Cubs prospect on mlb.com, Murray gets 50 grades in Hit and Power, with an overall 40 grade. If he continues to do well in Double-A, expect that grade to be on its way to 45+ by seasons’ end.
Rostered in 2% of Fantrax leagues, this piece is solely based on production thus far in 2023. Not found on any prospect lists currently, lesser-known hitters that produce often find themselves sneaking onto prospect lists toward the end of the season, or not even until next. Adding Murray now feels like getting ahead of the curve, and the cost should be nothing.