Photo By Scott Jontes

Junior Lake returned from his injury rehabilitation stint in extended spring training and rejoined the Tennessee Smokies on Sunday. In his first game back he wasted no time in announcing his presence with authority, but more on that later. For now, let’s just say that the Lake Hype Machine will be cranked into overdrive.

And that’s unfortunate, because the hype on Lake is very premature. He is an exciting prospect who oozes raw tools out of every pore, but he is not ready for the majors. Not only does have some trouble making contact on a consistent basis, he grew a few inches over the winter; that will undoubtedly require him to make some adjustments to his swing. For the time being Tennessee is exactly where he needs to be.

AAA – Iowa Cubs. 11 – 18
Almost without exception Iowa’s pitchers struggled in this one. The Cubs lost 12-4.

Jay Jackson only made it through four innings despite throwing 95 pitches. His line (6H, 5R, 4BB, 3K, 2HR) doesn’t need much amplification; Sunday was not his day, and the bullpen did not do much better. That includes Frank Batista who suffered through his first really bad inning of the season. By the ninth inning the game was so out of hand the ball was given to Mr. Everything Jonathan Mota (recently arrived from Tennessee), who pitched a scoreless ninth (and even got a strikeout).

Brett Jackson led the Cubs with a walk and two hits, including a home run to open the game. Ty Wright added a double and Luis Valbuena and Alfredo Amezaga both enjoyed picked up two hits.

AA – Tennesse Smokies. 13 – 18
Junior Lake had a great season opener, but the Smokies lost anyway. The final was 4-2.

Brooks Raley pitched six good innings (5H, 2R, 2BB, 1K) and wound up with a no decision. The loss went to Casey Weathers who continues to work on his control. He only walked one in his inning of work, but he did have two wild pitches. Brian Schlitter pitched a perfect ninth.

Junior Lake hit lead off and played shortstop to open his season. He was two for four with a double, a triple, a walk, and a sac fly. Elliot Soto, the usual shortstop, slid over to second base and collected two hits and two walks of his own. Logan Watkins, the usual second baseman, was out with a minor injury.

It will be interesting to see how the Smokies split up playing time among Watkins, Lake, and Soto over the next few weeks. Lake is currently a shortstop, although most expect him to move to third base or right field before too much longer. Watkins is a second baseman, and a good one, who has played at short, third, and in the outfield. Soto is possibly the best defensive shortstop in the Cubs’ system, but he also has the lowest ceiling of the three. I suspect Watkins and Soto will split second, Soto and Lake will split short, Lake and Matt Cerda will split third, all four of those prospects will see some time at DH, and Nate Samson will fill in where and as needed. I would not be surprised if Watkins and Lake saw some starts in the outfield as well. Another option would be to promote Watkins to Iowa when and if Adrian Cardenas is sent to Chicago. That would be an extremely aggressive promotion, but it would alleviate the roster crunch in Tennessee.

High A – Daytona Cubs. 10 – 20
The beleaguered Daytona Cubs are about to catch the much more prospect-rich Iowa Cubs in wins. Daytona collected their tenth victory of the season in walk-off fashion, 5-4.

Austin Kirk is killing it in the Florida State League. After his sparkling seven innings of work on Sunday, his ERA now stands at a very impressive 1.83. The lefty has given up just 33 hits and 9 walks in 44 innings of work this season. Batters are hitting .200 off him, and while his strikeout numbers are not great, his K/BB ratio is a respectable 2.44. Another few weeks with numbers like that and he should be on his way to Tennessee.

Larry Suarez coughed up the lead and cost Kirk a well deserved win. Tony Zych was the beneficiary; the closer picked up his first win of the season.

Matthew Szczur had one hit and one walk, but that walk turned into the game winning run in the ninth inning when Arismendy Alcantara hit his second triple of the game to chase Szczur home. Alcantara, a switch hitting shortstop, has quietly been piling up the hits at a terrific pace. Over the past ten games he has amassed a line of .395/.410/.658 to go with one double, three triples, a home run, and three stolen bases. His season OPS is up to .783. It’s too early to know if this is just a hot streak or if he has solved High-A pitching, but either way those are encouraging numbers.

Low A – Peoria Chiefs. 11 – 19
Peoria is at risk of falling behind Daytona in overall record. The Chiefs lost again 9-2.

Michael Jenson, Austin Reed, and Bryce Shafer took the mound in this game, and only Shafer pitched all that well. The defense did not help matters any. Three of the runs Peoria gave up were unearned thanks to three errors in the field.

Brad Zapenas had a double and three walks, but that was the only standout offensive performance. Rafael Lopez and Wes Darvill both had two hits while Zeke DeVoss collected a hit, a walk, and a stolen base.

  • Blitzenjohn

    Good to see Lake is back.

  • Jay Anderson Jr

    Good to see lake back. Hopefully the hype calms down. I was big on him, but now I don’t see him in Chicago before June, 2013. Maybe even September, 2013.

  • BD

    What is the word on Lake’s defense? I have heard he has a cannon for an arm, but is his glove/footwork any good? (i.e. could he push Castro to a different position)

    • Luke

      I’m not sure there there are more than two or three shortstop prospects in all of baseball that would have a realistic chance to force Castro to change positions.  Lake is not one of them… even though Castro’s growing army of critics will not doubt try to claim he is.

      Lake looked fluid in his chances at short in spring training, but I don’t remember too many shortstops as big as Lake is now.  I’m not sure how tall Lake really is now, but 6’4″+ would not surprise me.  He would look at home in the NBA.  He’s much bigger than the prototypical shortstop.

      As for his defense at third, he’ll just need experience.  He has the quickness, the hands and the arm to handle it, but he’ll need to work on his footwork, reading hops, his positioning, and so forth.  Remember, he is about the same age as Castro.  Just like Castro, his defense is going to be very unpolished.  Just like Castro, he just needs more experience.

  • Beer Baron

    Is Austin Kirk a real prospect? On one hand he’s a former 3rd round pick, he had a no-hitter last year and seems to be tearing up high A ball this year at just 21 years old. So that seems promising. But he was largely ignored by all the pre-season top prospect lists for the organization, and didn’t even make BN’s list of top left handed pitchers (which is saying something considering the lack of talent there). So how does he project?

    • Kyle

      Back of the rotation at best.

      He’s in that huge mass of guys in the system who aren’t top-200 prospects, but are definitely prospects and not just organizational guys. We have more of those than just about anybody in baseball.

      22 K in 44.1 IP as a 22-year-old in A+ isn’t exactly a red flag, but it’s a very yellow one.

    • Luke

      I did mention him in my Prospect Primer for left handed pitching in the “Others To Watch” category.  I also mentioned that I would not be surprised if he had a breakout season.

      The knock on Kirk is his ceiling and his lack of consistency in Peoria last season.  He’s generally thought of a No. 4 starting pitcher at best, and that limits his prospect status.  That said, he is performing on par with the best pitchers in the pitcher friendly FSL.  If he keeps pitching this well and if he can establish this level of success in Double A, we might rethink some things.  I haven’t seen a comparison of his pitches last season versus this season, but on paper I it looks like he’s a better pitcher this year.

  • mark

    Until the last game or two Alcantara had been playing 3rd this year. He was killing Daytona, with 14 errors, despite his ability with the bat. That experiment seems over for now. The experiment with Szczur at the 3-hole seems over for the time being, too.

    • Luke

      He’s played third base four times this season (he also played one game at second) versus 22 at short.  Of his 14 errors, 11 have come at short, 2 at third, and 1 at second.

      • mark

        I’ll take your word for it–and won’t trust my impressions in future. I really thought he’d played mostly third, but his errors have been a big part of Daytona’s struggles.

  • djriz

    I know Lake may be overhyped, but he does give us a reason to pay attention to Tennesse now. Before he came on back, Only Watkins and Ha were considered prospects, but neither one has the ceiling of Lake (but both probably have higher floors).

    So good luck, Junior, get smoking hot and give us hope.

  • Derrick

    Hey Luke, Junior Lake future Right fielder he should be ready when Dejesus contract is up and that cannon arm would do well. With the size the power should develop.

    • hardtop

      luke luck licks lakes

      • TWC

        Luke’s duck licks lakes.