Every season a rookie emerges from the back end of the prospect ranks and makes a significant contribution. My search for these players has quickly led me to the prospect retread Junior Lake. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, Lake has now been playing in the Chicago Cubs minor league system for six years. In that time, Lake has not done much to engender genuine belief in his future outcomes. As he pushes his way into the Pacific Coast League in 2013, the possibility of his debut in Chicago looms.
Born three days apart, Junior Lake and Starlin Castro both began their careers as infielders with the Cubs organization in the Dominican Summer League in 2007. While Castro shot through the system, Lake has been left behind in Castro’s shadows. Starlin was pushed to the hi A Florida State League to begin 2009; Junior was left behind in the low A Midwest League. Lake struggled in his first full season of minor league baseball in Peoria hitting .248 while managing a mere 18 walks to go with 138 strikeouts. Lake stole 10 bases, but was caught seven times. On defense he committed 42 errors. Lake spent 2010 in the Florida State League where things only got marginally better as he posted a triple slash line of .264/.333/.398. Starting 2011 back in Daytona, Lake showed statistical improvement by hitting .315 and slugging .498 over 203 at bats. This earned Lake a mid-season promotion to the Southern League where he struggled again hitting .248 while getting on base 30 percent of the time. Between the two stops in 2011, Junior accumulated 38 stolen bases while getting caught six times. At the age of 22, the Cubs had Lake repeat the Southern League in 2012 and again Lake did better on the second go around. Lake posted a triple slash line of .279/.341/.432. His on base percentage was the best it had been since he came stateside in 2008. Lake managed ten home runs in 2012 while stealing 21 bases.
On the field Junior Lake is an impressive athlete standing 6’3” and 215 pounds. However, his game has been referred to as a “complete mess,” a “hot mess,” and just plain “ugly.” On the field Lake made 32 errors over 101 games split between third and short in 2012. In the batter’s box Lake moves his bat a great deal and relies on a long swing. For someone who hit 10 and 12 home runs over the last two seasons, Lake’s inability to get on base or put the ball in play is problematic. Over and over again, pitchers attack Lake on the outside or with breaking pitches and Lake melts.
So why might he emerge in 2013 with Chicago? Watching Lake over five games in August against the Chattanooga Lookouts, one could see all his issues, but one can also see the potential to dream on. When Lake did make contact, the ball certainly jumped off his bat, both to left and right. On occasion, Lake seemed capable of laying off the chase-me curves or taking a fastball to right field with authority. When Lake can do both of these things with some regularity he could make himself into a credible player at the highest levels of the game. Lake will start 2013 in AAA, with only Chicago ahead of him. If he gets off to a strong start in that hitter friendly circuit a call to Chicago might not be far off.
Within the next season, Lake might have to convert to the outfield, which he has played in the Dominican winter league. The potential power and athleticism is still intriguing. Should the bat fail Lake might get a chance to come out of the bullpen. Although he does have a cannon for an arm, if Junior Lake has a break out in 2013 it will be on the strength of his bat.