Chicago's No. 1 prospect goes deep from both sides of plate
By Mike Rosenbaum
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A pair of home runs from Cubs No. 1 prospect Ian Happ backed a strong effort by Dylan Covey on the mound as the Mesa Solar Sox won the Arizona Fall League title Saturday with a 6-1 win over the Surprise Saguaros at Scottsdale Stadium.
Happ, No. 21 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, homered from both sides of the plate, hitting a two-run homer from the left side in the third inning and then connecting on a right-handed solo shot in the seventh. He finished the game 4-for-4, with three runs scored and three RBIs.
"First time in my whole life I've done that from both sides," the switch-hitting Happ said about his home runs. "I'm normally hacking when I hit from the left side and then go righty, but that was awesome."
The Solar Sox (16-15-1) boasted the top offense in this year's Fall League, pacing the circuit in home runs (25), stolen bases (44), on-base percentage (.340) and slugging (.395) while ranking second in the circuit in scoring (5.03 runs per game). Unsurprisingly, it was Mesa's high-octane offense, led by Happ, which powered the AFL East champions to a league title.
"To be completely honest, I didn't have to tell these guys anything before the game," Solar Sox manager Ryan Christenson said. "They've always showed up to play, and I knew they'd be out here to play today."
Marlins No. 4 prospect Brian Anderson, whose five home runs during the regular season paced the Fall League, provided the Solar Sox with an early lead as he delivered a three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning, depositing the first pitch he saw from Surprise starter Eric Stout over the wall in left field.
"As a team you always want to get ahead early in a big game like this," Anderson said after the game. "We knew we had Dylan Covey on the mound and he's been lights-out for us, so getting that early lead helped settle him down and let everyone relax."
After that, it was all Happ. After notching a single in his first trip to the plate, the 2015 ninth-overall Draft pick added to Mesa's lead in the bottom of the third with a two-run homer to right-center field off Pirates righty Alex McRae. He would then double down the left-field line in the fifth, setting the stage for a potential cycle in his final at-bat.
Batting from the right side of the plate with a runner on in the bottom of the seventh, Happ laced a line drive to the right-center-field gap that narrowly cleared the wall. Had it not left the park, the 22-year-old believes it likely would have been a triple.
"When it was headed that way, yeah, that's what I was thinking," he said. "Going the other way doesn't happen all that often, so I would have been trucking had it hit the wall. I was seeing the ball well today and was fortunate enough to get a couple barrels on the ball. They were all falling today."
Happ, a natural second baseman, also impressed with his defense in left field, making a running catch on the warning track in the top of the fifth inning.
"He's a special hitter as he showed today, and the fact that he's been able to step in and play left field for us the last couple days was good to see -- he made a great play out there today," Christenson said.
Covey was at the heart of the Solar Sox's combined no-hitter against Surprise on Nov. 1, when he tossed the first five innings before handing off the ball to a pair of relievers. On Saturday, the A's No. 20 prospect hurled four perfect inning before issuing a walk and kept the Saguaros out of the hit column for 4 1/3 frames. He ultimately allowed one earned run in five innings, tallying three strikeouts and six ground-ball outs while throwing 35 of his 59 pitches for strikes.
"It's not quite the atmosphere like a regular-season championship because it's only one game,'' Covey said. "We don't get the chance to maybe lose one and then come back and win two or three in a row. It was a must win and we got the job done, scored early, gave me a cushion to pitch."
A's No. 10 prospectFrankie Montas -- who also contributed in Mesa's aforementioned no-hitter -- fired three dominant innings in relief of Covey, as he allowed one hit and struck out five. The flame-throwing right-hander's heater sat in the upper 90s and bumped 101 mph in the outing, and he generated a trio of strikeouts with his 88-90-mph slider. Cubs right-hander James Farris worked a perfect ninth inning to seal the victory.
"It lined up very nice to see Covey and Montas to get the chance to win this clinching game," Christenson said. "They both performed very well, which I was glad to see. It was just a good game."
Mesa's first four hitters created all of the offense in the victory, as Franklin Barreto (A's No. 1), Allen, Happ and Anderson, who finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs, combined to go 8-for-15 and scored all six runs. Shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang (Indians' No. 9) also collected a pair of hits for the Solar Sox from the bottom of the order.
Jose Trevino (Rangers' No. 20) collected the only hits for the AFL West champion Saguaros (17-14-1), going 2-for-3 with a pair of singles, and Ryan O'Hearn (Royals' No. 7) and Mauricio Ramos (Royals) both reached base once via a walk.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.