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.
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).
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.
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.
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.