Saturday, July 28, 2018

Meet a Prospect Special Edition: JA Happ

The price for a starting pitcher in this year’s trade market is apparently pretty high. Now while I wouldn’t go as far as to say the price is astronomical, I have to admit that if I knew that the Yankees were going to trade both outfielder Billy McKinney and infielder Brandon Drury and his three years of team control for a starter I’d have to say I expected a little bit more back than JA Happ. That is not meant to be a diss or disrespectful by any means, but I just think that is kind of a lot for a rental starting pitcher. Happ is a seasoned veteran that has a great history of keeping down the bats on the Boston Red Sox specifically, and I am under no delusions that either McKinney or Drury had a true future here with the team either, so the deal makes sense… and the deal is done whether we like it, or we don’t, so let’s meet him. This is Meet a Prospect Special Edition: The JA Happ Edition.

James Anthony “JA” Happ was born on October 19, 1982 in Peru, Illinois. Happ was the youngest of three children, he had two older sisters, and attended St. Bede Academy where the lefty was a four-year letter winner in both baseball and basketball. After attending St. Bede, the left-hander enrolled at Northwestern University where he played college baseball for the Northwestern Wildcats. Happ spent three seasons with Northwestern before catching the eye of the Philadelphia Phillies who selected Happ in the third round, 92nd overall, of the 2004 MLB First Year Players Draft. Happ decided to forego his senior season at Northwestern and signed with the Phillies almost immediately after the draft, thus starting his professional career. Happ was immediately assigned to the Short-season A-level New York-Penn League (home of the Staten Island Yankees) where he made 11 starts and posted a 2.02 ERA.

Happ continued to impress within the Phillies system from 2005 through 2007 before the Phillies had a need for an arm at the Major League level on June 30, 2007. Happ was called up to make a start against the New York Mets, a start that he would presumably like to forget that saw the southpaw allow five runs in a loss. Happ would return to Triple-A after the start and would not make it back to the big leagues that season. Happ began the 2008 season back in Triple-A before once again reaching the big leagues with Philadelphia on July 4, 2008. Happ made two starts before landing back in Triple-A on July 23, but he was recalled on July 29th to the big-league club. Instead of pitching as a starter Happ was placed in the bullpen in his third stint with the Phillies, an experiment that lasted two days before Happ was once again sent back down to Triple-A where he would finish out much of his 2008 season. Happ was a September call up that season and was even named to the postseason roster that year pitching in one game in the NLCS, thus earning a World Series ring when the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays for their second ever World Series championship.

Happ was back with the big-league club in 2009, first in the bullpen and eventually in the starting rotation after Chan Ho Park was demoted to the pen due to struggles, and the Phillies were steamrolling the National League with the intentions of returning back to the World Series. Happ would finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year vote this season, but the Phillies would ultimately fall to the New York Yankees in the 2009 World Series. Happ was back with the Phillies starting rotation in 2010, but was ultimately traded to the Houston Astros on July 29, 2010 along with Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar in exchange for RHP Roy Oswalt. Happ struggled mightily with the Astros in 2010 through 2012 prompting Houston to trade the struggling left-hander to the Toronto Blue Jays on July 20, 2012. Happ went to Toronto along with Brandon Lyon and David Carpenter while the Astros received Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Asher Wojciechowski, David Rollins, Joe Musgrove, Carlos Perez and Kevin Comer. What a haul!

The Blue Jays pitched Happ out of their bullpen until the demotion of starter Brett Cecil to the bullpen. Happ would not start long though after having to undergo surgery on a fractured foot in September of 2012, thus ending his season prematurely. Happ only made 10 appearances with Toronto in 2012, six as a starter, but ultimately did enough to lead the Blue Jays to offer him a one-year contract worth $3.7 million to avoid arbitration for the 2013 season. The contract was the highlight of the 2013 season for Happ, especially considering that Happ was hit in the head by a line drive that season off the bat of Desmond Jennings. Happ would remain on the disabled list from May 7, 2013 to August 5, 2013 due to lacerations to his left ear and a head contusion. The 2013 season also marked the year that Happ lost his grandfather.

Happ was back with the Blue Jays in 2014 hoping for a much better season than his 2013 season, and he began the season on the disabled list. That’s not what you want. Once returned from the DL the Blue Jays placed Happ back in their bullpen, although he did regain a spot back in the rotation when Dustin McGowan was removed from the rotation. Happ pitched well as the Blue Jays 5th starter in 2014 pitching to a 11-11 record and a 4.22 ERA with 133 strikeouts and a 1.34 WHIP in 158 innings pitched. How did the Blue Jays reward his breakout season in 2014 you ask? By shipping him off to the Seattle Mariners on December 3, 2014 for outfielder Michael Saunders. Happ made 20 starts and one relief appearance for the Mariners in 2015 compiling a 4-6 record and a 4.64 ERA before Seattle traded Happ to the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 31, 2015. The Pirates gave up Adrian Sampson for the left-hander and enjoyed 11 starts from him. Happ posted an impressive 7-2 record with a 1.85 ERA and 69 strikeouts down the stretch for Pittsburgh before hitting free agency before the 2016 season.

Happ wasted no time on the free agent market signing back with the Toronto Blue Jays on November 27, 2015 on a three-year deal worth $36 million. Happ enjoyed a breakout season of sorts with Toronto in 2016 winning 12 games before the All-Star break and finishing the year with a 20-4 record and a 3.18 ERA with 163 strikeouts in 195 innings pitched. Happ finished sixth in the AL Cy Young Award voting for 2016 and led the team to a victory in Game Two of the 2016 ALDS. Happ came into the 2017 season looking for much of the same with the Blue Jays, but a disabled list trip due to left elbow inflammation would cost him six weeks of his 2017 season. Happ pitched well but never could replicate his 20-win season from the year prior.

In 2018 the Blue Jays named Happ their Opening Day starter, a game that Happ and the Blue Jays would lose to the New York Yankees 6-1. Happ was named to the 2018 MLB All-Star Game as well before being the subject of trade rumors due to his team struggling mightily in the standings. Ultimately, the New York Yankees acquired Happ for infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney for the stretch run.

Happ will bring his five-pitch repertoire to the Bronx that includes a four-seam fastball that touched 90-95 MPH, a slider that stays in the 84-86 MPH range, a curveball that sticks around 77-79 MPH and a changeup that sits around 84 MPH. Happ does not use his changeup against left-handed hitters and commonly mixes his curveball in with his fastball in two-strike counts to get outs.

Welcome to the organization, J.A., and welcome to the Yankees family!! Here’s to getting you another World Series ring.

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