A Pleasant Surprise: The Chicago Cubs Find Gold In A Lake
Sometimes baseball is not all about numbers and superstitions. There are times that a team takes a gamble on someone when they have nothing left to lose. Such is the case with the Chicago Cubs new found gem. Junior Lake has the hottest post all-star bat in the league right now and Junior hadn’t even picked up a major league bat prior to the mid-season classic. Junior is batting .545/.565/.864 in the last five games. Out of those 22 at bats Junior has struck out five times, walked once, stolen one base, and was caught stealing twice; needless to say, Lake isn’t baseball divinity quite yet. But there are questions to be posed such as where did Junior come from, has he posted numbers like this in the farm system, are these numbers expected to decrease, and where does Junior`s future sit with the increasingly youthful Cubs team.
Junior Lake was born March the 27th 1990 in San Pedro de Macoris which is located in the Dominican Republic. Lake made his debut in the Dominican Summer League and posted a .274/.341/.404 batting line. A year later he was sent to the Arizona League and posted a .286/.335/.417 line and was sent to short-A Peoria where Junior started to get noticed. Junior was moved all around the infield and spent a good amount of time at third base and his baptism by fire showed in the number of errors posted, which was 42. In the 491 plate appearances Junior posted a respectable .248/.277/.365 while striking out 138 times and walking only 18; plate discipline was something Lake needed to work on. In 2010 Lake posted a better stat line of .264/.333/.398 with 35 walks and 99 strike outs in the 447 plate appearances. Plate discipline seemed to be improving and Lake was sent to the double-A team in Tennessee. In 2012 Junior continued his journey with Tennessee and had almost the exact same number of plate appearances as 2010 while posting a similar stat line of .279/.341/.432 with 35 walks and 105 strike outs. Though his batting line improved slightly, his plate discipline was almost mirrored. Lake was then called up to Triple-A Iowa and then called up to the majors after posting a .295/.341/.462 during his time there.
Lake replaced the injured Cub Brian Bogusevic in the outfield and has been able to locate the ball well against some good pitching. Yesterday, the 23rd, Junior racked up three hits and RBI against Corbin, one of the best pitchers in baseball. Granted, the rookie is still struggling with plate discipline and adapting to his body and the speed of the game, but at this rate even Sveum is enjoying what he sees.
[quote]“It’s still a small sample,” Sveum said. “Puig did it for a month, but there’s no question in my mind, for four days anyways he’s sparked a couple of wins. (Monday) night he took over the game and basically won the game himself . . . when you get down to it, in a 162-game season, when you have those kind of impact players that control a baseball games themselves, you look back and a guy like him and are like, ‘Ah, that’s 14 games (we won) because he took that game over himself. Those are the kind of players you have to have.”[/quote]
Sveum is correct, we are looking at a very small sample size and Junior may be demonstrating a hot bat, but that is not any reason to try and speculate what the Cubs may have found. Lake is a big athletic youth who is demonstrating a much needed spark for the Cubs. He has demonstrated many pros and is making Sveum`s job very difficult when De Jesus comes back from the DL, but there are still many concerns for the Dominican.
The first concern is plate discipline. Yes the bat is going to cool down and Junior is going to show some of the flaws he had in the minors. He is going to strikeout, he in rarely going to walk, and he is going to be caught stealing his fair share of times. Mix this information with Castro`s flaws and you may be seeing a similar monster. I expect Junior`s numbers to fall to around the .280 mark with around 40-50 strike outs. He will struggle with adapting to the speed of the base running game and will be caught stealing more then he should be. The last concern I have is the fact that the Cubs are playing Lake in the outfield, where Junior rarely played in the minors. Junior`s arm strength is questionable and this could result in some scored runs or missed cut offs. Overall, I think Junior`s defensive worries will be addressed as he gains experience and his batting struggles will need to be addressed in the batting order. Lake`s athleticism is a huge bonus that has caught the attention of the always insightful Sveum.
[quote]“Those are the kind of players you talk about, the athletes, and hopefully they hit,” Sveum said. “The guys who can score from first base, steal bases, be energetic all the time and bring life to the team sometimes. You see it in other places, and that’s the kind of guy we’re hoping we get out of him, because he’s got that kind of body and speed and power and athleticism . . .there’s all kinds of options there – because he’s such a good athlete – to get his ability in the lineup.”[/quote]
The last question I posed is where Lake fits in the future of this young team. I think Lake will fit nicely in the 4-6 spot of the batting order. He is currently batting leadoff but I expect that to change once the athletic outfielder starts seeing his OBP drop due to strikeouts and his lack of getting bases on balls. He is a great utility player who can play a number of positions and will start shaping his body to do what Junior wants to do in the majors, whether that is be an agile base stealer or a powerful slugger. The future is bright for the young Lake and he could be just what the Cubs are looking for two years down the road.