In six spring training games, Ian Happ has owned the lead off spot. He is hitting .471 with 4 home runs, 7 RBI and .500 OBP.
In his rookie season, Happ hit .253 with 24 HR, 68 RBI, 8 SB and .328 OBP.
Maddon has been trying out Happ, Jason Heyward and Albert Almora in the lead off spot. Schwarber ha also been mentioned as a possible lead off man. It appears that Maddon wants an outfielder to lead off games.
But Happ has clearly drawn the attention of the media and fans. In comparison to Heyward, Happ's offensive production is far superior. In outfield defense, Heyward is much better with a .14 dWAR verus Happ's 0.0 dWAR. Heyward had a 2.3 WAR in 2017. Happ had a 1.8 WAR.
It may come down to which players will play the most in the outfield. The Cubs love Schwarber but can he be a consistent hitter against both right handed and left handed pitchers? Almora has been a bench player. Is he ready for a full time center field role? Happ was a super sub playing multiple positions in the OF and second base. Will he take playing time away from Zobrist?
Since the lead off man is critical to getting the team off to a good start, it would appear Happ and Almora would share those duties. Whether they will platoon in CF is another question. It is possible that Happ could emerge as a full time starter by platooning with both Almora and a corner outfielder (Schwarber or Heyward).
The elephant in the room is Heyward's contract. But if make Heyward a defensive replacement, the person replacing him at the plate must be productive to off-set the decline in defensive WAR.
Since Happ is a switch hitter with power from both sides of the plate, he makes the most sense to match up against starting pitchers. Against a right handed starter, the outfield could be Schwarber in left, Happ in center and Heyward in right. Against a left handed pitcher, the outfield could be Schwarber or Zobrist in left, Almora in center and Happ in the right.
Happ may be the most valuable asset Maddon has to use in 2018. While the team wants to give Heyward a full opportunity to correct his offensive problems, it should not be at the expense of Happ.