Batter’s Box: What Is Happ(ening)???

In his first appearance in the Batter's Box, Rich Holman provides news and notes from Saturday's noteworthy hitters.

Who’s got two thumbs and doesn’t want the regular season to end? This guy! With the Rays locking up the rights to host Oakland in the Wild Card game, there’s only one situation that is yet to be determined and it’s a doozy. In the NL Central, it appears neither the Brewers or Cardinals want to win the division. The Brewers dropped their second straight game in Colorado as the Rockies walked off in fashion in the 10th inning. The first batter in extra innings, Trevor Story, worked the count full and smashed a 3-2 sinker over the right-field wall.
The Cubs played their role as a spoiler when keeping the Cardinals from locking up the division and sending them to their fourth straight loss. With the Cubs sitting Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, they were led to victory in part by their studly cleanup hitter, Ian Happ. For the game, Happ went 3-for-5, smashing two two-run-home runs and adding a single for good measure.

Happ started off hot in the first inning, singling following a solo shot by Kyle Schwarber. Nico Hoerner led off the third inning with a single and moved up to second on a fielders choice by Schwarber. Happ took a 3-1 Adam Wainwright sinker deep to straightaway centerfield for his second bomb in consecutive days. Then, in the fifth inning, Happ smashed an 0-1 hanging curve from Wainwright for his third homer in two days, putting the Cubs up 5-0 at the time. The Cubs bullpen did Cubs-bullpen-things allowing the Cardinals back into the game, but when the dust settled the Cubs won 8-6.
Happ has played well since being recalled by the Cubs. In fact, since August 1st, he’s hit 11 homers and has batted .280, albeit, in a platoon role. Happ continues to struggle against left-handed pitching, limiting his ultimate upside. Despite these limitations, Happ has managed to hit 27 bombs between AAA and the majors this year, making him an intriguing late-round pick in 2020, although he will come into the year with just outfield eligibility. We’ll see if the Cardinals or Brewers decide they want to win the NL Central, but if the Brewers win and Cardinals lose, we get Game-163, so the regular season doesn’t have to end.

Jorge Soler (OF, Kansas City Royals)—2-3, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB. How many people know that Soler now leads the American League with 47 home runs on the year? I don’t think I even realized it until I participated in the #2EarlyMocks and Soler was drafted in the fourth round between Gary Sanchez and Rhys Hoskins. To say this was unexpected is an understatement as he had never eclipsed 26 total homers (minors and majors) in a season.

Christian Walker (1B, Arizona Diamondbacks)—2-3, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, BB. Christian Walker put an exclamation point on a five-run seventh inning by mashing a two-out grand slam for his second tater of the day. Walker made significant plate discipline improvements in the second half this year, cutting his strikeout rate from 28.0% to 22.8% while increasing his walk rate from 8.9% to 14.1%. Even more encouraging may be the improvements he made against lefties after the All-Star Break, where he batted .267 while walking (18.7%) almost as often as he struck out (22.7%). Walker will be on my list of sleepers coming into the 2020 season.

Jordan Luplow (OF, Cleveland Indians)—2-3, 3 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB. Cleveland’s lefty-specialist, Luplow, had his third multi-home run game of the year. For the year, Luplow has mashed 14 homers off lefties and put up a line of .320/.439/.742 against southpaws. Unfortunately, his upside is limited to that of the weak-side of a platoon job as his .216/.274/.299 line against righties reveals why he doesn’t play on a full-time basis.

Rougned Odor (2B, Texas Rangers)2-4, R, HR, 2B, 6 RBI, BB, SB. Talk about filling up a stat sheet! Odor had himself a day, as he hit his 30th home run of the year while stealing his 11th bags, making him just one of twelve players in the 30-10 club. Despite being in that rare club, he has continued to struggle with strikeouts (30.8%) and his .204 batting average leaves something to be desired.

Jose Altuve (2B, Houston Astros)—3-5, R, HR, 2B, 3 RBI. Despite missing 24 games with a hamstring strain, Altuve reached the 30 home run mark for the first time in his career, dwarfing his previous high of 24. Altuve will finish with a batting average close to .300, but the thing that has left his game is the stolen bases. Prior to 2018, Altuve had five consecutive years of stealing 30 bases, hitting a high of 56 in 2014, before dropping to 18 in 2018 and just six this year. Going into next year, I won’t be projecting Altuve for more than ten steals and if he exceeds that mark, it’ll just be gravy.

Gerardo Parra (OF, Washington Nationals)—2-4, 2 R, HR, 4 RBI. Parra homered for the second straight game and was this one a monster. Parra put an exclamation point on a nine-run second inning for the Nationals last night when he smashed an 0-1 Hunter Wood fastball to straightaway center for a two-out grand slam. Despite being in this article for a second-straight day, he can be ignored for fantasy purposes in 2020.

Xander Bogaerts (SS, Boston Red Sox)3-4, R, HR, 2 RBI, BB. Bogaerts has had a career-year for the Red Sox, mashing 33 homers, scoring 109 runs, driving in 116 RBIs, and batting .309, and its all for naught as they’ll be missing the playoffs. However, Bogaerts solidified himself amongst the leagues best shortstops heading into 2020.

Franmil Reyes (OF, Cleveland Indians)—2-3, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. Reyes lived up to his much-anticipated pop this year, mashing his 37th homer of the year on a two-run shot off Patrick Corbin. The second half of the season saw pitchers adjust to Reyes, as his strikeout rate increased to 30.9% and his ISO fell from .293 to .224. Reyes remains an intriguing mid to late-round pick coming into the 2020 season and his plate discipline will be a key contributor towards his continued success.

Jonathan Villar (2B, Baltimore Orioles)—2-4, 2 R, 2B, RBI, BB, SB. In a world where homers are king, Villar has made himself valuable with his legs. Villar stole his 40th base yesterday, making him one of only two players to reach that mark this year. In addition, Villar has hit a career-high 24 taters, while scoring 111 runs and batting .274. Going into 2020, I’d expect Villar to go in the first six rounds of a draft due to the state of stolen bases.

(Photo by Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire)

Rich Holman

Tax Auditor by day (I promise I'm not the devil), dad to twin velociraptors by night. Complete sports junkie. Philly fan that only boos occasionally.

  • Avatar John says:

    I don’t think anyone would have predicted 47 homers for Soler going into the year. He had, what, 38 homers combined in parts of 5 major league seasons going into 2019. But it seems like Soler is now realizing the hype had a prospect earlier this decade.

    “A prototypical right fielder, Soler has a ceiling that rivals Javier Baez’s as the highest among Chicago farmhands,” Baseball America wrote in a 2013 report on Soler.

    Six years later, we can see where they were coming from with that statement. Also in that 2013 report? “The ball explodes off Soler’s bat, and his well above-average power can make any ballpark look small.”

    He’s had a great season despite being surrounded by a poor lineup. I’ll be interested to see what his 2020 looks like, especially if the Royals can find some more bats to support him.

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