Just who is Junior Lake?
There’s been a ton of buzz around this kid lately, and rightly so.
Lake is no stranger to success in baseball having already completed what would be deemed his first “full” season of AA baseball with the Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League. This comes after an impressive 2011 where he made the jump from high-A ball to AA ball.
It’s recognized by most that AA is where your prospects either find their stride and begin to flourish or begin their slow, inevitable decent in to baseball obscurity. Put simply, it’s sink or swim and Mr. Lake brought his big-boy floaties.
The Dominican 22 year old who hails from the “city of shortstops” San Pedro de Macoris has made a name for himself as a middle in-fielder since 2009. Short stop, being known as one of the tougher positions to play (like there are any easy ones…) is a particular challenge that Lake seems to embrace. His lean stature (6’2″ 180 lbs) make him fast with a very good reach, which are all weapons that any good in-fielder will posses.
Scouts have described his arm as “above average” and a .921 fld% (72 GP) in 2012 seem to back that nicely – however, in any analytical situation, you need to address the variables. This metric seems low for a short stop considering the amount of traffic that position sees per game. Lake’s 24 total errors works out to roughly 1 E/3GP which can look slightly unnerving for any team. This should all be taken in to context when you factor in Lake’s age and his experience level. Many players learn their best habits in AA, so it’s unwise to dismiss his fielding abilities yet.
While Lake’s fielding is a nice accessory to his skill set, it’s his bat and his speed that turns heads. Lake stole 21 bases in 103 games last season only being caught 12 times in the process. He doesn’t posses Billy Hamilton like speed, but certainly has the wheels to make him an effective deterrent to pitchers who often check their runners. This speed is also used in the field which helps inflate his fielding percentages despite his tendency to make errors.
All errors aside, it’s Lake’s bat that is making a splash right now as he’s currently atop the AVG board in the Dominican Winter League with a .345/.396/.483 triple slash. This is actually not a huge shock to some, as it seems that something clicked in 2011 when he made the transfer from high-A to AA look almost seamless. He managed to only drop .061 wOBA while making the transfer, which is impressive and quantifies his promotion.
Also worth nothing is his BB% almost doubled when he made the jump to AA in 2011 (2.8% to 5%) which indicates that he’s learning to “see” pitches better and not swinging haphazardly at unfavorable pitches. Being choosy at the plate forces pitchers to be better too, as they wont be able to rely on a “low grade” strikeout pitch for an easy K. Forcing pitchers to attack him in the zone could be the prime catalyst in why he’s having so much success in the Dominican Winter League, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. Stats indicate he’s challenging fastballs and laying off the offspeed mix outside of the zone which is not only generating more walks (7.8 BB% in 2012) but allowing him to make better contact.
These are all signs of maturity, which is nice because he’s right in the ripe age where he’ll take the next stage in his development. All paths lead to success at the plate.
So what does the future hold for Lake? Unfortunately for him, there’s a young man named Starlin Castro who currently occupies his host position for the Cubs and I don’t think he’s going to be leaving anytime soon. Lake’s future with the Cubs is uncertain at this point as he would have to make the conversion to either second base or third base to stay relevant to the Cubs’ future. He would also make a nice little trade chip to sweeten any sort of major deal, but I don’t see the Cubs itching to move him anytime soon.
Lake’s talents are special and he could be in a Cubs uniform as soon as 2014 should his development maintain its momentum. For now, he’ll continue to make waves in the Dominican Winter League hoping the splash carries over.