The Chicago Cubs’ Junior Lake made a splash last season, batting .284 in 68 games, with six home runs and 16 RBI. He made enough of an impression that he was slotted in for a starting spot in the outfield for 2014.
But Lake couldn’t replicate his numbers, and struggled at the plate to find consistency. A five-tool player, Lake has the natural ability to be a great player. To this point though, patience is clearly a value that cannot be taught.
While Lake was able to showcase his speed and power on a few occasions, his biggest notoriety this season came from broken bats over the knee. Which followed a strikeout, which happened a lot this season. His strikeout numbers were in reality on par with last season (68 K in 64 G), as he had 110 K in 108 games this year. But one of the biggest difference was his average on balls in play. Last season Lake had a BAbip of .377. This year it fell to .294. With that came a coinciding drop in batting average.
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The difference in that stat can be seen in his total base numbers. Last year he had 101 TB in 64 games. In 108 games, it increased to only 108. So while the strikeouts seemed to be the glaring hole in Lake’s game, it was more the result of the balls he hit in play that altered his season. He wasn’t finding gaps, wasn’t keeping it on the ground.
He was sent down to Triple-A Iowa in mid-August after Chris Coghlan emerged as a second half force, and Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara saw the majority of at-bats in center and right. He wasn’t seeing consistent at-bats, and the Cubs felt he couldn’t progress as a role player.
In his short time in Iowa, Lake seemed to gain back some of his confidence, and cut down on his strikeout totals. He earned a late-call up, but was reinserted into the “role player” slot upon his return.
Lake’s future with the Cubs is in limbo. The tools are certainly there. But with Coghlan, Alcantara, and Soler in the drivers seat, he’s on the outside looking in. And with the possibility of Kris Bryant learning the corner outfield spots, as well as Mike Olt? Nothing will be easy.