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Jim Callis

Happ rips first Fall League homer with Theo in attendance

Cubs' No. 1 prospect goes 2-for-3 to help lead Mesa to 10-7 victory

Happ rips first Fall League homer with Theo in attendance

MESA, Ariz. -- Ian Happ picked a good time to deliver his first Arizona Fall League home run. The Cubs second baseman deposited a ball onto the berm in left-center at Sloan Park in the bottom of the first inning on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after Chicago president of baseball operations Theo Epstein settled into a seat behind home plate.

"I guess that's pretty good if he was here," Happ said. "It's always good to do it in front of the boss. I got it up in the air to the opposite field and it got out."

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Happ's homer, which came off a flat changeup from Surprise Saguaros right-hander Josh Staumont (Royals' No. 10), opened the scoring in a four-run first inning. The Mesa Solar Sox broke out to a seven-run lead after two innings and cruised to a 10-7 victory. Happ finished the day 2-for-3 with two runs, two RBIs and a walk to improve his AFL slash line to .286/.386/.469.

It's no surprise that Happ is producing at the plate, because that's why the Cubs selected him ninth overall in the 2015 Draft. That marked the third straight year they took a college hitter with a top-10 pick, following Kris Bryant (No. 2 in 2013) and Kyle Schwarber (No. 4 in 2014). Signed for $3 million, Happ reached Double-A in his first full pro season while batting .279/.365/.445 with 15 homers, 16 steals and 68 walks this summer.

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Ranked No. 21 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, Happ is capable of producing similar numbers once he gets to Wrigley Field. He's a switch-hitter with bat speed and balance from both sides of the plate, not to mention solid strength and speed.

The question, for multiple reasons, is where Happ will play for the Cubs. They have a lineup full of gifted young players, including a second baseman in Javier Baez who just won a National League Championship Series MVP Award.

Additionally, Happ began his college career at Cincinnati as a second baseman before spending his sophomore and junior seasons as well as his pro debut in the outfield. He moved back to second base in instructional league last fall and spent the bulk of his time there in 2016. He has the athleticism and arm strength to play second base, but some scouts think he lacks infield actions and is less than smooth turning double plays.

Happ on climbing the system

Happ says he feels comfortable at second base after returning there, and his AFL to-do list includes a heavy emphasis on cleaning up his defense. He's not worrying about where he might fit with the Cubs and believes his ability to play at least four positions -- he saw time in all three outfield spots in Double-A -- can only help.

"It's nice to be in a system where versatility is paramount," Happ said. "If you hit, they'll find a spot for you on the field. [Cubs manager] Joe Maddon isn't afraid to play guys anywhere. If you can play four or five positions, he'll get you in the lineup."

Happ, who DHed on Tuesday, wasn't the only standout for the Solar Sox. Second baseman Max Schrock (A's No. 20) had two hits, including a double, and drove in four runs. Right-hander Frankie Montas (A's No. 10) was sensational once again, hitting 101 mph and running his AFL scoreless streak to 14 1/3 innings with three more scoreless frames.

With the win, Mesa (13-11) remained tied with the Salt River Rafters atop the East Division. The loss kept Surprise (12-11-1) in a first-place tie with the Peoria Javelinas in the West.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.