Happ highlights Cubs' impressive versatility

Rookie slugger has started at five positions since callup in May

Happ highlights Cubs' impressive versatility

WASHINGTON -- Ian Happ knew he could get to the Major Leagues quicker if he could play the infield and outfield, like Ben Zobrist. It worked, and it's also symbolic of a theme the Cubs have employed since Joe Maddon took over as manager.

This season, the Cubs used 143 different lineups (the Nationals used 114), and fans can expect to see Maddon moving around different parts of the order throughout the postseason, which begins tonight against the Nationals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile.

"A lot of teams don't have the options we have," Maddon said.

Game Date Matchup TV/Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 6 CHC 3, WSH 0 WATCH
Gm 2 Oct. 7 WSH 6, CHC 3 WATCH
Gm 3 Oct. 9 CHC 2, WSH 1 WATCH
Gm 4 Oct. 11 WSH 5, CHC 0 WATCH
Gm 5 Oct. 12 CHC 9, WSH 8 WATCH

Zobrist is the poster child for Maddon's many lineup machinations, playing first base, second base, shortstop, left field and right field this year. Happ has started at second and third base, as well as all three outfield positions since his May 13 callup. Last season as a rookie, Kris Bryant played first, third, shortstop and all three outfield positions, but 139 of his 148 starts came at third base this season.

"We have so many outfielders and so many infielders, I don't know if I'll be needed in the outfield much more," Bryant said. "I've always told Joe I'm up for anything. Maybe I did miss [playing the outfield] a little bit."

Does the versatility give the Cubs an edge?

"I think it makes us able to handle more things in that Joe has more options to use and great guys off the bench," Bryant said. "That definitely plays into it. You know you have a guy starting, but if he goes down, you have another guy take his place, kind of like with Willson [Contreras] and [Addison Russell this season]. It makes us feel good with the roster we do have."

When Contreras and Russell were sidelined with injuries during the regular season, Alex Avila and Javier Baez stepped in at catcher and shortstop, respectively.

Baez's diving stop

"I love the idea that we can make changes," Maddon said. "Obviously when you make the choice [on who starts], that makes your bench even stronger. You watch these crazy [Wild Card Games] at this point and how their lineups flip, especially in the National League situation during the course of a game. So you have to have those kind of pieces, maneuverable pieces, for the latter part of the game, which we'll utilize."

Happ was playing in the Arizona Fall League while the Cubs were on their way to a World Series championship in 2016. He had a goal then.

"For me, I'm just trying to get in the lineup and help the team however I can," Happ said. "My goal coming into professional baseball was to prove I could play second and become a better outfielder so I could progress through the system and eventually give the big league team another asset or weapon to be able to play multiple positions, be a switch-hitter against lefties, righties, whatever, and fill as many positions as I can."

Must C: Happ's go-ahead home run

Initially a second baseman in the Cubs' Minor League system after being taken in the first round of the 2015 Draft, Happ started playing second base in 2016. He made more starts at second than any position in the Minors this season before being called up.

"What I said from Day One is, 'If I'm an infielder, you can stick me in the outfield,'" Happ said. "If you make me an outfielder, you'll never have me come back and play the infield. Let me prove I can do it at second and go from there."

The Cubs are encouraging their Minor Leaguers to become more versatile.

"I think Ben started the trend, but now it's something a lot of young guys want to do," Happ said. "You just want to get in the lineup. You don't want to pigeon-hole yourself. In an organization like this, if you get stuck at one position, you've got an All-Star in front of you. You want to be able to play all positions to give yourself a chance."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.