If you haven’t heard of Starlin Castro, you’re reading the wrong website. Castro burst onto the scene and took the Cubs starting shortstop job in 2010, and looks like he won’t be going anywhere for years. Unless, of course, Hak Ju-Lee pushes him out of shortstop to second base. But Hak-Ju Lee, who we have talked about extensively as the likely shortstop of the future, isn’t the only Cubs infield prospect that has a shot to not only make it to Wrigley, but make it big in Wrigley. I’ve talked about Ryan Flaherty, DJ LeMahieu and Logan Watkins in the past, and those three all have the potential to become everyday major league players (though Watkins has some work to do prove that). There is another player on the infield we need to mention, however.
Meet Junior Lake, a 20 year old Dominican shortstop who is starting to figure out how to convert his tools into baseball success.
Lake has been with the Cubs since he was 17, but 2010 was only his second year in a full season league. As the shortstop for High A Daytona, Lake finished 25th in total bases league wide, and trailed only LeMahieu, Flaherty, and outfielder Kyler Burke on the Daytona Cubs. Impressively, only two of those who finished above him the league total bases list had fewer at bats than Lake’s 394.
Odds are Lake will have to move from shortstop in order to play for the Cubs. I don’t think he will be good enough defensively there to replace Castro (who projects as an excellent defender despite his 2010 numbers) or Lee. If Castro goes to second, Lake could wind up in a four way battle for third with Vitters, LeMahieu, and Flaherty. At 6’2” and 200 pounds, there is plenty of reason to think that Lake will develop the power teams look for in a third baseman. He began to show flashes this season when he hit two more home runs in 70 fewer at bats than during his 2009 campaign in Peoria.
Lake has some work to do as he moves up the ladder. For a speed guy his caught stealing numbers are far too high. Experience and coaching should help that, and the same goes for his strikeouts. 99 strikeouts in 394 at bats is far to many for the slugging percentage he has shown so far. If he can clean up his base running and improve his ability make contact, Junior Lake could easily be poised for the type of breakout season Castro showed us in 2009.
Next year he will likely move up to Double A Tennessee, largely because Hak-Ju Lee is right behind him in the system. There is a possibility that Lee will jump Lake and take the Tennessee job, but I tend to doubt it at this stage. There is also the possibility that Flaherty could get jumped to Iowa and Lake moved over to third full time as soon as next season, but I tend to doubt that too. More likely Junior Lake starts next year sharing time at short and perhaps third with Flaherty, while LeMahieu holds down second.
I think as the Cubs head into 2012 looking to compete for the division title, Junior Lake is one of the players that could be very attractive as a trade chip. Then again, with a breakout season he could be even more attractive as the third baseman of the future. Either way, he should be only your short list of prospects to keep track of over the course of this next season.