Happ Going Strong in Florida Instructional League

The Phillies grabbed left-hander J.A. Happ in the third round of last June's draft. After a trip to Batavia for his professional debut, Happ is now working in the Florida Instructional League. Happ has a bright future and could well be on the fast track for a visit to Philadelphia. Hopefully, that visit will be a long one.

As the draft approached, J.A. Happ was hoping to go in the top five rounds. The lower he went though would make his decision tougher, since he had another year of eligibility at Northwestern. Another year of school and take his chances in the 2005 draft? Or, sign now, figuring it's his best opportunity? The Phillies erased much of that question when they jumped to take Happ in the third round.

There was plenty of opportunity to see Happ pitch while he was at Northwestern. Happ threw 94 innings in his 2004 stay at Northwestern. His season included an outing against Michigan State when he threw 140 pitches and a classic outing against Northwestern where he threw almost 130. Against Indiana, Happ pitched a complete game shutout, giving up just two hits and walking one. He also set a season-high in strikeouts with 12. The Michigan State game was also a complete game shutout where he gave up just five hits.

All of those innings may have slowed Happ's first professional season slightly. He showed up at Batavia and was shut down a couple times with some stiffness. It turned out to be nothing serious and was just a case of dead arm that a lot of pitchers go through. "I threw a lot of innings and I think it just wore out my arm a little," remembers Happ.

"The Phillies were watching me pretty closely and I'm glad how it worked out," said Happ. So are the Phillies. Happ signed quick enough to report to Batavia and start his professional career. "It's a pretty small town (Batavia) and there's not much to do. Maybe they did that on purpose, so guys don't get into trouble," said Happ. After getting through his bout with a dead arm and without much in town to distract him, Happ quickly opened eyes. Happ went 1-2, 2.02 in 11 starts with the Muck Dogs and added another 35 innings onto his college total, bringing him to over 120 innings for the season. "I was okay with throwing so many innings, but sometimes when you throw a lot, it takes a little more time to get ready for your next game," admitted Happ. "You can feel the soreness for a couple extra days."

Now, in the post-hurricane days in Clearwater, Happ is working in the Florida Instructional League. "They're working primarily on getting me to be consistent in my delivery," explained Happ. "Sometimes I rush my delivery a little." Happ is also putting in some work on his change-up and developing a little more command of his fastball. On Tuesday (October 5), Happ threw four innings and felt good about the outing. "I always seem to get stronger after the first couple innings and I really had my change-up working. I got a few guys to roll over on my change-up."

The Florida Instructional League is a unique set up for young players. "We're divided into two teams. Team one is made up of the guys who play the game. They do the basic stuff to get ready and then play. The other team works with some of the coaches and gets in some additional work on most days," said Happ.

All of the hard work should pay off for Happ and he hopes that it's in the not-too-distant future. "I think I could possibly be in the majors in three or four years," believes Happ. "I hope the Phillies move me quickly, but just not too fast. I need to make sure I'm ready before I move up." While Happ hasn't been given any clues to where he'll play in 2005, he's ready for a full-season league. "It may be a little tough, because you have to pitch a lot, but I'm ready for it."

It certainly won't be out of the question for Happ to move quickly through the minor league ranks. After a strong career at Northwestern, a third round selection in the draft and an impressive season at Batavia, Happ is well on his way up the ladder.

Editor's note: J.A. Happ will be keeping readers of PhillyBaseballNews.com updated on his progress in the Florida Instructional League. Watch for his updates throughout the fall.

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