How Long Can Happ and Candelario Continue Raking at Iowa?

Prior to his superior landscaping display in Mesa, there was a bit of debate over whether Ian Happ should be assigned to AAA Iowa or get a little more seasoning at the AA level. After all, the thinking went, the switch-hitting infielder/outfielder had only gotten 248 at-bats with Tennessee and might need to further prove himself there before moving up.

But when you look at his career arc thus far, the promotion was right in line with how the Cubs have treated Happ. After a combined 250 at-bats between short-season Eugene and low-A South Bend in 2015, his first season out of the University of Cincinnati, Happ was bumped to high-A Myrtle Beach to open 2016. Wanna guess how many at-bats he had there?

Oh, so close. It was actually 240, but you’ve got the right idea. It’s interesting to note that Happ has torn up each league in which he’s begun a season, but has then seen his numbers dip appreciably upon promotion. Not hard to believe, given the nature of baseball and moving up a level and all that, though you wonder if perhaps that factored into the Cubs’ thinking.

A bigger factor was Happ’s Cactus League performance. I know we all like to say Spring Training doesn’t matter, but there’s no denying a .383/.441/.750 slash line. And if you were wondering how Happ would fare given regular at-bats against guys on the cusp of The Show, well…

Then you’ve got Jeimer Candelario, the corner infielder who got a cup of coffee with the Cubs last season. While he’s missing the Happ hype, the Candy Man is perfectly capable of lighting up a few scoreboards of his own. If, that is, you consider 5 RBI in each of his last two games to be lighting it up.

I don’t mean to be selling Candelario short relative to the write-up on Happ, but he’s been in the system a lot longer and doesn’t have quite the same cachet. After four years bouncing around the lower levels of the minors, the switch-hitting infielder broke out at low-A Myrtle Beach and has had a steep upward trajectory since.

This is beginning to feel like one of those couponing shows where people buy massive quantities of food and household supplies they’ll never use because they’ve figured out how to game the system. Likewise, the Cubs have a major league roster that’s both uber-talented and incredibly young. With easily the highest controllable WAR in the league, they really don’t have many position-player needs over the next few years.

What the Cubs will need, however, is starting pitching, which is where one or both of these prospects are going to come into play. Without speculating on exactly which arms the Cubs might covet, it’s easy to see how their inordinate wealth might eventually be parlayed into bolstering a weakness. That is, after all, how these things are supposed to work.

As talented and productive as Happ and Candelario may be, they’re going to be limited by the nature of the organization they’re currently a part of. Which is to say that absent everyday playing time, neither can experience the fullness of his individual value. And that’s why, barring an injury or a trade involving Albert Almora or Javier Baez, I continue to view both I-Cubs stars as trade material.

Don’t worry about this being another Gleyber Torres redux, since there’s no way the Cubs go back the way of the short-term boost. Though they had plenty of talent, the Cubs were championship poor at the time and really wanted that last piece to get them over the hump. Think of it like going the rent-to-own route prior to establishing enough credit and being able to pay cash up front.

So much of the criticism of the deal for Aroldis Chapman — aside from his reputation as something of a goblin — wasn’t so much trading the players they did, but doing so for a rental piece. And while it’s hard to sustain a system when you keep shipping off your best prospects, doing so for a pitcher who will stick around for a while helps to nullify the losses.

For now, both players continue to be the type of appreciating assets the organization is glad to hold onto. If they don’t make moves, the Cubs will find room for Happ on the big league roster. Candelario too. But as much fun as it’d be to see exactly how Joe Maddon could make that work when he’s already in a crunch to distribute playing time to the guys he’s already got, I just can’t see it happening.

What say you, dear reader? Am I being too quick to shuffle these two would-be Cubs off to other teams because of my fixation on pitching? Or is this a case of the roster already being too young and too talented to truly get value from Happ and/or Candelario?

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