Minor League Prospect Report: Junior Lake, SS, Chicago Cubs
Do you ever feel like you are a good luck charm for a player? I feel that way about Chicago Cubs prospect Junior Lake, who always seems to do something impressive when I see him in person: hit a long home run, make a spectacular defensive play, fire a laser-cannon throw, something good. Heck I've even seen him draw a walk and control the strike zone.
Of course, I saw Brandon Wood do all of those things, too, many times.
What do the Cubs have in Lake?
He was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, exciting the Cubs with his across-the-board tools: power, speed, throwing arm, all above average to excellent in raw terms. His performance in the low minors was uneven. He had horrific problems with the strike zone at Low-A Peoria in 2009, posting an 18/138 BB/K ratio in 463 at-bats with an overall .248/.277/.365 slash line. He improved that to 35/99 in 394 at-bats for High-A Daytona in 2010, with some positive sharpening of the slashes (.264/.333/.398). He had a hot start at Daytona in 2011 (.315/.336/.498 in 49 games), then moved up to Double-A.
He's spent the last year and a half with the Tennessee Smokies, hitting a total of .267/.326/.413 in 170 games, with 16 homers, 36 doubles, 48 walks, and 165 strikeouts in 647 at-bats. That includes a .279/.341/.432 line this year with 35 walks and 105 whiffs in 405 at-bats. He's also very erratic as a basestealer, going 38-for-44 in 2011 (awesome) but just 21-for-33 this year (not so hot).
Lake is a chiseled 6-3, 215, a right-handed hitter and thrower, born March 27, 1990. He has a tremendous throwing arm; I'd give him an 80 for arm strength. Some scouts say he has the best non-pitching arm in the minors, and I wouldn't doubt it. It is good enough that I would be willing to give him a shot as a pitcher if hitting doesn't work out. He also has plus power and plus speed, but he still struggles to tap into both attributes consistently.
He'll crush hittable fastballs, but still has problems with breaking balls. While he's made some improvements with his strike zone judgment, pitch recognition still eludes him much of the time. He's also erratic defensively, showing off the cannon arm frequently but remaining overly error-prone. The Cubs have also given him time at third base and second base, but he hasn't performed consistently well at either spot. He may fit best in right field, but that would increase pressure on his bat
Lake is a classic tools player who may, or may not, figure out how to use them on the field more consistently. He shows flashes, and is still young enough to progress a great deal, but the track record of similar talents isn't encouraging.