There was good and bad about J.A. Happ coming into the draft. You have to love a tall (6', 6") left-hander who had success in a major college program (Northwestern). On the other hand, Happ's velocity wasn't where a lot of people thought that it should be and they wondered how effective he could be down the road. The Phillies were smart to put aside the naysayers and grab Happ in the third round of the 2004 Draft.
"The White Sox had let me know that I was high on their list, so I was sort of watching what they did," admits Happ. The Phillies calling his name in the third round was somewhat of a surprise, but a welcome one at that. Being drafted that high made the decision not to return to school an easier one. While he signed with the Phillies, Happ is going to finish his education at Northwestern and even moved to Chicago during the off-season to be closer to school. "I knew that no matter what happened, school was a priority for me," said Happ.
During the winter, Happ has done the usual workout routine of throwing and running, working toward his goals for 2005. "I just want to stay healthy and make it to Clearwater sometime this season," said Happ. It's likely that he'll start out a level below Clearwater, but it's also likely that he could reach his goal of pitching in the Florida sunshine sometime this summer.
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Acquired: Drafted out of Northwestern University in the third round of the 2004 Draft.
Repertoire: "I'm known for my fastball," said Happ. "My change-up is coming around, too. I worked on that a lot in the instructional league." The velocity will come as Happ continues to develop and with his developing change-up, it will make his fastball that much more effective. Plus, Happ throws a good, hard slider and curve that he uses well to keep hitters off pace.
Pitching: Happ isn't afraid to throw pitches. He was usually around 100 pitches per game in college and pushed it to 126 in the Big Ten Tournament. That's one reason why the Phillies took it easy on him at Batavia and didn't look for him to throw deep into games. This season, that will be different and it's likely that when all is said and done, Happ will be among the leaders in innings pitched. He prides himself on pitching in long stretches and eating up innings. His hard slider and curve are down in the zone and he's tough to take deep. He occasionally lost some control last season, but he had also thrown a lot of innings, too. It will be interesting to see the change-up and how much that adds to his game.
Projection: Can Happ pitch at Clearwater by the end of the season? Yes. It's that simple. He has the talent and has shown great poise on the mound and that combination will help him a lot. He's also not afraid to work hard and learn from coaches and he'll soak up whatever suggestions they can give him. Long-term, Happ could wind up near the top of the Phillies starting rotation or at least only a spot behind the Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd type prospects. He is definitely someone to watch in 2005 and beyond.
ETA: There is enough talent there for Happ to move quickly. He should reach Clearwater at some point this season and if he gets there early enough, could be at Reading by next spring. Late in 2007 he could get a look unless he needs an extra season at the upper levels.
Comparison: While Happ is nearly six inches taller than Randy Wolf, the two are similar. Neither has overpowering velocity, but both are smart and hard working. They know that there are pitches other than the fastball and they have learned how to use them. By the time he reaches the majors, it's possible though that Happ's velocity won't be an issue anymore if he develops the way many believe that he will. Wolf and Happ are two pitchers who will be fun to watch during this season as Wolf tries to prove he's healthy and Happ looks to make a name for himself in the Phillies organization.