Junior Lake in Center Field? and Other Bullets

Photo By Scott Jontes

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  • Yes, we’re all mostly waiting on Edwin Jackson/Carlos Villanueva news, so you can consider these Bullets a bit of lighter fare. If you missed this morning’s Jackson/Villanueva update, here it is. Further, here’s the latest on Villanueva, specifically (looks like a two-year, $10 million deal). ESPNChicago, citing Buster Olney, is calling a four-year, $52 million deal with Jackson “close.”
  • Junior Lake has been starting in center field a fair bit in the Dominican Winter League, which, yes, is almost certainly as much about just finding a spot for him and getting his bat in the lineup as it is about the Cubs wanting to see him in center field. But, here’s the thing to keep in mind: the Dominican Winter League isn’t just some developmental league – it’s actually a competitive league where the teams very much want to win. The team wouldn’t keep putting him in center field unless they  saw some ability there. Center field hasn’t really been a plausible long-term suggestion for Lake, but it suppose it’s just as likely as any other position for the athletic but inconsistent youngster. His bat would obviously play a whole lot better in center field than a corner spot. Very few think he can stick at shortstop, and he’s blocked there by Starlin Castro anyway. I think he spends most of 2013 at AAA (if he’s still with the Cubs), regardless.
  • Yesterday, 11 years ago, the Cubs signed Moises Alou to a “big-time” three-year, $27 million contract. I remember thinking it was a shock that the Cubs actually went out and got a big free agent and spent a lot of money on him (seems quaint now). I wonder how I would greet the signing today. He was 34 at the time, and coming off some huge seasons in Houston. It was a fair bit of money at the time, but it was still an era where guys were performing well into their late 30s (indeed, Alou struggled his first year with the Cubs, was just OK his second year, and then was enormously awesome in his final year with the Cubs, at age 36/37).
  • The Tribune offers a couple videos on former Cubs: Ryne Sandberg on his role with the Phillies, and Ryan Dempster being introduced as a member of the Red Sox.
  • Jed Hoyer is the 5th sexiest GM in MLB, per a jovial list on Big League Stew. He is, indeed, a handsome man.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

69 responses to “Junior Lake in Center Field? and Other Bullets”

  1. Chris

    Hmmm players playing well into their 30s in the steroid era u dont say…ha

    1. Westbound Willie

      Brett you’re kidding about hoyer, correct? He looks and talks like a little stat geek. Handsome? You’re kidding, right?

  2. EQ76

    Jed Hoyer is the 5th sexiest GM in MLB, per a jovial list on Big League Stew. He is, indeed, a handsome man.

    funny, my wife has a thing for Theo. We may have the best looking FO in all of baseball. Well, at least we’re winning at something.

  3. cubchymyst

    Lake is intriguing enough that I hope he stays with the cubs this coming year. Really interested in what he can do in AAA, the guy is only 22.

  4. daveyrosello

    I’m guessing this means the Cubs don’t think much anymore about Lake’s ability to stick in the infield? I thought his defense was always fine? Coulda swore I read more than once that Lake was a better defender at SS than Castro. Cannon arm sure, we’ve known that for ages. But I thought the read was that Lake was more sure-handed than Castro as well.

    1. Luke

      Lake is not a better defender at SS than Castro. There are some who see Castro’s error numbers and assume that (1) he is terrible and (2) anyone would be better, and those are the people who push that theory, but they are flatly wrong.

      Castro has the potential to be a Gold Glove shortstop. Lake has the potential to be a league average shortstop.

      On the infield, Lake’s best fit would be third base, and that remains a very real possibility. I honestly think his playing in the OF is more about getting his bat in the lineup than maximizing his defensive value. He’s athletic enough to literally play any position on the diamond.

      1. Randy

        How are you deciding he would be a league average shortstop and Castro for gold glove. Dont see it

        1. Luke

          Castro has much better range, better hands, and is fairly polished for his age and level. He makes plays at short that almost no one else can.

          Lake can get to the balls you’d expect him too… when his head is in the game… but he has a slower first step, and seems more likely to get handcuffed than Castro. His actions at short are smooth, but he just doesn’t get to as many balls.

          There are also questions about how well Lake will be able to maintain his athleticism as he continues to muscle up. He’s a tall guy; some scouts don’t think he’ll be able to stick at short as he continues to add muscle to match his height.

          1. fortyonenorth

            Castro makes the great plays, but he misses way too many easy ones. He’s got a long way to go if he wants to be in the Golden Glove conversation. I just don’t see it at this point.

            1. Luke

              Compare Castro at his current age to any of the elite shortstops in baseball history at the same age.

              1. fortyonenorth

                A cursory look at Fangraphs aggregate fielding value doesn’t place Castro among the elite defensive shortstops, even considering his league age. Then again, there aren’t a lot of good comps. You have strong defenders who couldn’t hit and great offensive guys who couldn’t field. I’m sure there may be specific advanced stats that favor Castro. Castro may very well become an elite all-around SS, I’m just saying, he has a ways to go on his defense. Maybe he’ll get there. I’m rooting for him.

                1. Toby

                  Castro is near the bottom percentile of all SS in making the routine play.

              2. Westbound Willie

                You have to stop this “age” thing. If you are a good player you have been constantly ” playing up” by at least two years your whole life. If you are the best 14 year old player in your age bracket you are playing against competition that is16-17 years old. You’re not playing against 14 year old kids.

                Thus the age thing is silly. Just like if you are a freshman in college and you are the young stud on the team. You are playing against kids that are 3-4 years older than you so if you are good you’ll survive and even thrive against this competition where if you are not good you’ll have people making excuses that you’re young. That’s reality boys and girls.

            2. Kenster

              Point Case number one: Derek Jeter made 56 errors as a 19 year old in the minors and as a rookie at age 22 he made 22 errors… last time i checked castro was 19 as a rookie he made 27 errors at a whole better level than Jeter did when he was 19

              1. fortyonenorth

                I don’t think Jeter’s a very good comp–or a very good defensive shortstop. He’s certainly not an “elite” defensive shortstop. Look at his fielding values based on UZR. They’re not good.

        2. bbmoney

          I’m not Luke, but most of the advanced defensive metrics show Castro as an above average defensive short stop already at 22. They make it look like he gets to a lot more balls than the average short stop…so if he’s getting to 50 more plays a year but making 8-10 more errors….that’s a trade off I’ll take as it results in 40 more outs.

          That might not be how the numbers really add up, but that’s the idea. As far as Lake goes, I’m not a scout so I won’t comment.

          1. bbmoney

            Too late.

          2. MichiganGoat

            And once he learns how/when to not rush his throws and when to just hold the ball and not force a throw he will be a gold glover. The problem is too many people see the errors and immediately jump to poor defense.

          3. Kevin B

            BB nice job on the research and I agree with you. Kenster thanks for the stat on Jeter. I was aware of it and about to post, but I did not know the exact numbers but you are right on, most young SS make errors, they do it in the minors mostly. At 20 Castro was in the bigs doing it in front of everyone. He does have the potential, he still needs to work on concentration and everyone else had great points on the fact that most idiots just look at the errors and think he stinks at defense. Far from it.

            Fortyone you may be correct looking at his UZR but I think you are looking at his UZR now and the past few years, when he is a bit older and lost range. In Jeter’s younger days he was considered an elite defender. Heck A-Rod was considered the best SS and he went to the Yanks and had to play 3B as Jeter’s defense was real good. Of course part of that was Jeter is Jeter and captain of the Yanks but if Jeter could not defend they would have moved him to 3B or 2B.

        3. Cub2014

          I agree

        4. James Smith

          Look at Derek Jeters stats when he was that age he was a butcher but no one would ever say that now

  5. Cubbie in NC

    I am hoping that he is playing in CF because the Dominican team has a hole there. He has no Cubs future in CF unless BJackson gets traded. I am still hoping he has a chance to be the RH option at 3rd next year.

    1. Luke

      Lake needs another year in the minors. He’s still much too inconsistent to have much of a chance to succeed in the majors. Look for him to split time between third and short in Iowa next year.

      1. MichiganGoat

        One of the things I like about this FO is that they do not rush prospects, they are consistently believe that players need time to season in the minors. I do wonder if this FO would have brought Castro up as quickly as Hendry did.

        1. Luke

          They most certainly do rush prospects. Javier Baez to Daytona? Brett Jackson to the majors? Marco Hernandez to Peoria?

          But that’s not a bad thing. There is no one correct way to handle all prospects. Some prospects need to be pushed. Some need to be left to develop more slowly. A good front office will adapt their approach on a case by case basis.

          1. Leo L

            I agree, and the reason they did not rush Rizzo is to save money

          2. Kevin B

            Luke challenging prospects in the minors, pushing them a bit is not rushing a prospect. Rushing a prospect is putting them in the majors before they are ready.

            How is Baez being rushed. He was tearing it up without being challenged so they put him in high A to challenge him. That is how you develop a player. Leaving him in low A to be a superstar – what does that do? Marco Hernandez, well Peoria was low A ball do not see how that is rushing a player.

            Jackson was not ready. But they knew that. They even discussed the fact that his swing would not play in the majors. They brought him up to open his eyes as he would not adjust. Now Bjax has totally remade his swing and is working hard at it and committed to doing it and the reason is he saw for himself. So it was worth the call up. Now Vitters, I have no clue why they call him up and do not play him – I was not happy with that, he was doing well at AAA and they were on the way to losing 100 and they were not playing him? With no one else to play 3B anyway, that was pathetic.

            I agree with you that you have to treat them differently my point is in the past where the Cubs would rush Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, Kevin Orie, Gary Scott, they ruined those guys. Corey Patterson should have been a superstar and if developed correctly he would have. We had no minor league coordination, no plan to develop, no uniform “Cubs Way”. Well now we have all of that with this FO.

            As for Rizzo I disagree 100% – they did not keep him down to save money. That is b.s. Sure we all know about how teams do that and can do it and I would not be mad if they did. Jed Hoyer admitted to RUSHING Rizzo to the bigs with the Padres. It was a mistake. One they were not going to do again. Theo says he wants players to have at least a certain number of minor league AB’s to develop. (I do not recall the number). Rizzo could have been called up in May and the Cubs would have “saved” money. In fact by calling him up in July and not mid August they actually risk him being a super 2 in a few years, thus costing them money. They could have waited another month to avoid that but its not a consideration and it should not be.

            Further Rizzo is a good example for Bjax. Rizzo struggled and then reworked his swing. He then needed AB’s to get it right and consistent which he obviously did. They left him in the minors even though he was tearing it up for that reason. They did not want to rush him they developed him.

            The result, Rizzo is here to stay, just like the Cubs wanted. They said the next time we bring him up we want it to be for good. Now Rizzo looks like the star in the making everyone thought he would be, it was not to save money it was to develop the player. And in doing so they proved they do not rush prospects.

            1. Rich H

              I agree that this FO doesn’t exactly rush prospects and it is a more case by case basis as it should be.

              I think that Rizzo is a good example of a player getting rushed along without even having an opening for him (Belt was at 1st base and move to LF). Hoyer knew he screwed up on that one and made the kid earn a full time gig before bringing him back. It worked out and I do remember a lot of so called experts screaming for his tenure to begin last spring training. The extra time in AAA helped. Now I really hope that BJax makes the adjustment to swing to be in the same boat next All Star weekend (Please keep your clothes packed Mr DeJesus).

              Vitters from what I have read other places was in the dog house as soon as he got to Chicago. I am not going to say the kid is done. There is a lot of stuff about his game to like but he needs to listen to instruction and start being a little more patient. I think that the Cubs wanted to give Vitters a wake up call. Now the ball is in his court. Develop some better habits. Listen to advice when given and take criticism better would be a start on him. I actually think that he has had too many voices in his ear at this point and it had him chasing his tail in Chicago last year. It might be the best for all involved to move him at this point before he gets the AAAA lable.

    2. arta

      you think Jackson is the answer?

  6. PRcajun

    I remember being thrilled when he signed with the Cubs 2001 and I still have a Cubs #18 Alou jersey. I was always a big fan of Moises and used to go to Cubs vs. Astros games in Houston just to see what was then my favorite ballplayer playing against my favorite team.

    Back in those days you could get front row seats in RF of The Ball Park at union Station, then Enron Field…now Minute Maid and chat with Moises and Sammy Sosa during opposite inning stretches. Sammy would joke that Moises should play for the Cubs. Wasn’t Sammy a big part of getting that deal done?

  7. Rich H

    I have been on the Lake bandwagon for a while as most can tell. I could definitely see him as a strong CF’er.

    A little off subject here but wanted to mention that with this rebuilding thing that we are doing I keep thinking back to the late 80′s-early 90′s Montreal Expo’s. Man it seemed every year they were bringing up more kids that could play at a high level. I mean how many teams can trade a young Randy Johnson and not miss a beat. It all can together for them in 94′. What a team that was.

    The reason I bring them up is because they were all the same type player. From Grissom to Walker to Johnson, they were all high upside hugely athletic kids (sound familiar). Their systems number one goal was finding uber athletes and helping them become great ball players. I kind of see our current FO having the same minset. Now we are just hoping for the same results (From the system not the big clubs win/lose record).

    1. Kevin B

      Rich I agree on Lake he could be a strong CF, why not. Speed great arm, athletic, why not? I also agree with the others on the 3B spot. With his cannon arm and ability to bulk up a bit, he could be a wonderful 3B as well. I hope we hang on to him.

      Rich great comments on the Expo’s system and past, Andre Dawson (arm, speed like Lake but Lake does not have the power of Dawson but does not have to in CF), Valentine too in the OF. Great call and comment!

  8. Spencer

    I don’t think I can get on board with 4/52 for Jackson. Seems like an overpay to me. FO may be pressing because the Sanchez deal fell through and they really wanted to add a SP because of other plans they had in the works down the road (like trading Garza).

    1. Matt

      $13mm a year for a solid 3/4/5 pitcher is pretty solid to me. Its actually pretty close to what the market would be. I’d rather have a Jackson in the rotation then I would a guy we just pulled out of AA or AAA. The better our rotation is the better we will be. Some teams have a Stud #1 or Solid #1 and #2 but crap for #3 through #5 and the team struggles. The stronger you can build your rotation even if the rotation is made up of all solid “#3′s” you are going to be in alot better shape than the team with one or two solid pitchers and the rest crap. You play the odds and you build the rotation with strength and $13mm a year for an inning eater and very durable pitcher sounds about right to me. Alot better than $25mm a year

      1. Leo L

        I agree. It is atleast a good starting block. hard to go from 100 losses to a winning record especially if you are trying to trade away one of your better offensive player. Will need to improve somewhere.

    2. another JP

      The reported deal for Jackson is more in line with his value than the Villanueva signing IMO. If the Cubs were to land both guys then I’d be fine with the extra couple mil for each since it would really solidify our rotation. Going into 2013 we’d have Garza, Shark, Jackson, Villy, Baker, Feldman, Wood with Vizcaino coming in by June. That’s a very solid group and gives a great deal of flexibility in case of injuries, trades, etc. I believe Jed/Theo have realized a) the team offense won’t be measurably better next season & b) we have three levels of pitching trash in our farm systems which makes signing free agents to improve the staff a necessity.

      1. LWeb23

        I am by no means an expert, but I don’t think we’ll see Vizcaino until Septemeber as a 40-man call up for a cup of coffee. Let him get a preview of what to expect when he opens with the club in 2014.

  9. Leo L

    still doenst mean they werent pressing. maybe the wanted both but definately didnt want to lose both

  10. mark

    There’s nothing to say that Lake is gonna be a lifetime Cub. As I understand it, there are a few people at least who think Almora and Soler might make it to Wrigley at some point. Jackson? Who knows. Trades, signings?

    Retooling Szczur’s swing, trying Lake in the OF–there will be scouts watching and evaluating. It could all end up being value added. Development doesn’t have to mean development for the Cubs’ roster.

    1. Kevin B

      Mark great point part of development is potential for trades and yes let the other scouts see it, everyone has opinions even scouts do not always agree but it just takes one teams main scout to say hey this guy could be are future CF (or 3B or whatever) and lets go get him in a trade.

  11. justinjabs

    They don’t show it in the video, but I got a chuckle at how Dempster accidentally thanked “Ben and the Chicago Cubs — I mean, Boston Red Sox” organization at the press conference. Wrigley still lingers on his mind.

    Also, how is Theo not on there? I still can’t get over that first picture of him in front of the vines …

  12. mudge

    Theo’s not a GM.

    1. justinjabs

      I know … makes me feel like they should rank Presidents.

  13. Dumpgobbler

    Lake in CF makes sense really. Not just for the cubs, but also in terms of Lakes progession as a baseball player. I just skimmed over but any ideas of his D in CF? Obviously he has an absolute cannon. He also has speed, so range shouldn’t be an issue. But what about reads?

    1. Toby

      I saw a tweet the other day that said that Lake has been nominated for MVP in the DWL. That’s what 5 HRs and a .342 average will do. Let’s hope he gets a long look this spring.

  14. #1lahairfan

    Luke,
    Could Matt Szczur turn in to David Dejesus +20 SB’s?

    1. Luke

      Could. He isn’t there yet, but that’s in his range.

  15. Teddy Ballgame

    I was kinda pissed we didn’t get Sanchez after being so close, but comparing Jackson’s stats to Sanchez (very close), realizing the Cubs would be saving 2yrs/28mil with Jackson puts it into better perspective for me. I like the Jackson deal, if it goes thru and with Villanueva as well, the Cubs are starting to put together a pretty decent pitching staff. Now, let’s get JP Howell!!! We’re an All-Star caliber player away at CF (Bourn) and 3B (?) from having a solid team. Can Vogelbach play 3B?? Totally kidding, but he’d be an instant fam favorite!!

    1. kranzman54

      I still can’t help but think what if we got Sanchez, reports say Sanchez and Jackson were not mutually exclusive for the Cubs. Would have been fun!

    2. T Wags

      I don’t know why people are so concerned about a 4yr/$52mil deal for Jackson. He has been very consistent over the last 4 years with an average WAR of 3.525(fangraphs) and an average xFIP of 3.89 while making no less than 31 starts each year. Compare that to Matt Garza over last 4 years (WAR 2.7, xFIP 3.81, averaging only 29 starts because of injury last year) and you could make a case that Jackson gives you more security on a semi-long-term deal than does Garza.

      I’m not saying Jackson is the better pitcher necessarily, but when you commit to years and that kind of dough, security is what you’re after.

      1. Kevin B

        T Wags I love the way you put it and agree. This is a great contract. $13 million per year is very reasonable for Jackson who is a GOOD pitcher, solid innings eater as well, consistent, durable in is career and his metrics are IMPROVING, lowering his walks and raising his K’s. This guy was a hot shot prospect years ago, maybe he is even going to bet better? But they did not pay based on his getting better later, they paid a reasonable price in this market.

        I see on other blogs people saying Jackson should get $7 or $ million per year? What are these guys smoking? That is the market for buys like Baker and Feldman. That is reality.

        Padres, Indians, Rangers were all in the $13 million per year range. The Cubs offered 4 years and the others did not. Cubs win. I am HAPPY for the 4 years. Why not? Market keeps going up, now we have a core piece of the pie here.

        Jackson is our number 3 now. Hopefully in 2 years he is our #4 or #5, but he will be there performing for us. even good teams need solid #4 and #5′s and as the contract moves along I do not see how that would be a bad deal, I would not be surprised if he stayed at #3 and still earned the contract.

        I love the deal. I actually wanted the Cubs to get him last year. Great move. 29 year old. Solid veteran who is GOOD and locked up for 4 years. Cubs building the team and foundation at the same time. Will help us be decent this year and that helps us get FA’s to sign next year and in the future.

  16. truthhurts

    Lake, if he didn’t have ‘concentration’ problems?

    Great athlete…check
    Rocket arm….check
    Big body….check

    Catcher?

    More likely (super-sub).

    1. Rich H

      If he became a Mark DeRosa or Nick Punto type no one would complain one bit. Call him super-sub or Mr Everything. Just make sure he develops to the point that he is on the field 140 games a year and it is a win for who ever ends up with him.

  17. 2much2say

    The Cubs need depth and quality. Phase 1 Depth Phase 2 Quality. Prospect depth is used as trade pieces to fill holes or hopefully to fill your own holes. The only solid positions arguably is SS and 1st base. How many times have we heard the Cubs don’t have the pieces to get Price? Headley? etc…

  18. willis

    I like the idea of Villanueva and Jackson. That’s a 7 deep rotation from the jump. Which is great. IF Jackson does sign, I think we are looking at Shark, Garza, Jackson as the top three. The others will battle it out. And this is really big if Garza and Baker are not ready right away. No reason to rush them.

  19. SRK

    Is Bourjos of the Angels available? Strong defender, good speed, decent pop. It allows the Cubs to keep The Jesus in RF. The Angels wanted Marmol. Could a trade including Bourjos, Callaspo and/or Jepsen get done?

    1. bbmoney

      I think the Angels are planning on keeping him after the Morales trade. A defensive outfield of Burjos, Trout and Hamilton is pretty dang good.

      1. SRK

        I missed that move. Your right, getting rid of Morales does pretty much kill that move, allowing Trumbo to DH and keeping Callaspo at 3rd. The Angels outfield should be a regular on web gems.

      2. SRK

        Maybe see if the D-backs would be willing to move Parra? Not sure how his glove plays in center though.

  20. Brian

    On a somewhat related note, Baseball America rated AFL players in their year-end issue. They said Javier Baez should be able to stick at short. I’ve only heard previously that he would likely have to move off to third. But, hey, I’ll take another premium bat who can play SS. I think it’s the positional equivalent of a true #1 starter.

  21. THE INQUISITIOR

    Does anyone ever look at a box score…who ever came up with recently playing CF a “fair bit” is just plain WRONG

    Lakes team has played 13 games in December. Here is a position breakdown
    3B 4 starts 1 in game sub
    LF 3 starts
    DNP 3 games
    SS 2 games
    CF 1 game

    Never let FACTS get in the way of a GOOD story

  22. Tony S

    This time next year will be very interesting assuming some of our good prospects have taken another step. Another year of development and progression from some of our top prospects currently in the low minors and there could be enough quality pieces there to take a shot at Price/Felix.
    It will be very interesting to see the development of the pitchers especially. Vizcaino, Whitenack, Panaguia, Underwood, Johnson, Maples.