Junior Lake, Professional Enigma and Other Bullets

Photo By Scott Jontes

Photo By Scott Jontes

Anyone else wish we could have seen Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer take each other on at the same age? Those five years make a huge difference.

  • John Sickels describes Junior Lake, as a prospect, about as well as anyone in a recent write-up. Among his thoughts on Lake: “If you see Junior Lake on the right day, he looks like one of the best players in the world. He’ll blister a long home run, or he’ll make a spectacular defensive play, or he’ll show off a tremendously good throwing arm, or he’ll steal a critical base. If you see Junior Lake on the wrong day, he’ll look like one of the most confused, helpless players in the world …. Lake’s tools are simply excellent, especially his throwing arm. He’s made improvements around the edges and flashes intriguing baseball skills, but he’s not consistent about it and is still frequently frustrating.” This is why the Cubs will hold out on Lake as long as possible, and why they’re trying to increase his positional versatility. They don’t want him squeezed out, only to see him finally have it “click” with another organization. He doesn’t turn 23 until the end of March.
  • The Rangers have signed Jeff Baker, who had to settle for a minor league deal. It’s a bit surprising, given his versatility and solid numbers against lefties, but he sure did struggle in Detroit and Atlanta after departed from the Cubs in August, and had a down 2011, too. Baker chose a crowded roster to try and make, but it’s obviously a good team.
  • Cubs pitching prospect Dallas Beeler talks about recovering from Tommy John surgery (which he had in 2009), and notes that he’s given pointers to prospect Robert Whitenack, who had his first year back from TJS last season.
  • Phil Rogers, like Ken Rosenthal before him, doesn’t see MLB allowing the Mets to keep their first rounder (11th overall) if they sign Michael Bourn (they’d be making a thin argument that the top ten worst teams are supposed to have their picks protected, which would include the Mets … even though the explicit language of the CBA says top ten picks). Gotta think Scott Boras is getting pretty desperate to put together a multi-team market for Bourn.
  • Darwin Barney was honored as CSN’s Cubs Player of the Year.

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

71 responses to “Junior Lake, Professional Enigma and Other Bullets”

  1. wayner21

    I am hopeful our current FO and coaches are better at getting “toolsy” players like Lake to maximize their talent than the previous regime. Guys like Felix Pie and Corey Patterson come to mind how the Cubs have been terrible at taking advantage of raw talent in previous years. This will be a great litmus test to see how well of an organization the Cubs will be at developing players. I know it is not fair to judge them entirely on one player, especially one they did not draft, but still to have a player with Lake’s tools and not turn him into at least a dependable major leaguer will be a dissapointment IMO.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      You and the old FO are looking at it backwards. No organization gets “toolsy” players like Lake to succeed. Instead, it’s a question of recognizing what are true tools and which ones are not. To be blunt, Lake pretty clearly lacks some fundamental baseball tools involving the ability to almost instantaneously recognize where a baseball is going once it leaves a pitchers hands or when it leaves the bat. Learning to overcome these deficiencies is only slightly easier than learning to have perfect pitch or to overcome color blindness.

      If you look at the successful organizations, they ignore the classic “five tool” labels (as most of these “tools” are amalgams or not really tools at all), and focus on the guys with great baseball tools. Now, the Sox under Jed and Theo did work on *honing* those skills: but they were working with existing talent rather than trying to create it de novo. That’s the difference between tuning a piano and building one: which is to say, no small difference!

      1. wayner21

        Great point. I would argue however since Lake batted .280 in AA last year he does have the skill of at least some pitch recognition. There is no way a guy with zero skill at recognizing a pitch can have that level of success in hitting 90 mph fastballs. How many guys flame-out in either college, rookie-league, or A-ball? More than any others that make it to AA. Your point makes sense in that the FO should draft players or sign players that have baseball skills instead of just measureables like speed and arm strength. However, in the case of Lake he has shown the ability at times to flash brilliance on the diamond. I am making the case that this is a great test of the FO to be able to have Lake become more consistent in bringing his skills on to the dimond on a daily basis. Players like Lake do have the ability to learn to recognize pitches, gain plate-discipline, etc.

        1. DocPeterWimsey

          Actually, guys can bat 0.280 in AA without having a batting eye. Shawon Dunston, who had a historically bad batting eye, batted 0.330 in AA! Batting is a combination of two distinct skills. One is batting eye: i.e., the ability to see a ball 10′ from a pitchers hand and have a very good idea where that ball will be (up and down, left and right) when it gets to you (some 45-50′ away from that point). The second is contact: i.e., the ability to get your bat on a rapidly moving object, regardless of where it is.

          Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters offer two very good examples of having one tool but not the other. BJax has a great batting eye: but he’s not great at getting his bat on the ball. Vitters is very good at getting his bat on the ball: but he doesn’t have a very good batting eye.

          And here is the rub: a lot of guys with the latter talent are sufficiently good that they can hit both the strikes and a lot of the non-strikes that minor leaguers throw. It is very, very rare that they are so good that they can do this at the MLB level. The guys who could do this (Yogi Berra, Vlad Guerrero) are stand out in baseball history. Shawon Dunston was almost one of those guys: but his contact skills were not quite good enough to make up for his bad batting eye (misidentified as “inconsistency”)! But guys doing even as well as Dunston are very much the exception.

          1. gocatsgo2003

            Well, Lake put up a .279/.341/.432 at AA last year so there’s at least something to his batting eye. The .279 was propped up a bit by a .353 BABIP, but his BABIP has typically been in the low- to mid-.300s throughout his career. Seems like a guy that can really square up a ball… when he makes contact (the K’s are a bit scary).

  2. Blublud

    I have to say that I don’t want Bourn to go to the Mets as I prefer him on the Cubs and I’m still holding out hope, but I agree with them. Why should they suffer bacause the Pirates failed to sign their first round pick. The language should be the worse 10 records from the previous year and comp picks should not be included or protected as they are already a gift. If this were the Cubs, I’d be pissed.

  3. Jughead

    Wow. What does this say about the Cubs? Jeff Baker to the minors and he was considered “good” while in Chicago.

    1. cubspong

      True, but other teams clearly thought he had some value last year seeing as which we received Marcelo Carreno for him who is not a bad prospect at all.

  4. JR

    Brett, do you think there is any chance MLB could change the compensation rules for signing free agents? I mean it really screws guys like Bourn. And what if the Cubs finish 11th next year? As much as the Front office takes pride in developing thru the draft I don’t see them giving up a pick to sign big time free agents even if they love a guy.

    1. Blublud

      If we finish 11th, then oh well, we have to follow the rules. But if we finish 10th or what would actually be 21st but the Astros fail to sign their pick this year, then I would be pissed. I don’t see MLB changing the rules though as they primarily design to pretect the smaller markets from constantly losing player for nothing.

      1. Blublud

        *as they are primarily designed* edit button

      2. JR

        Yeah, It could be interesting next year though. I am sure the Cubs will really want to make a splash next offseason. But if they have a pick 10-20 that would suck to lose the money and the pick by signing a guy. I still think one of the main reasons they got EJax was there wasn’t a pick tied to him.

    2. ssckelley

      As a fan I like the rule, I would rather see players not move around so much.

      1. ETS

        you mean not play?

        1. John (the other one)

          The rule is not really about keeping players though–it is about keeping salaries down.

        2. Whitflag

          Bourn will play.

  5. Jeff

    Brett,

    It’s an interesting point to argue, the Mets trying to secure their 11th pick if they signed Bourn.

    I think this yet again shows how flawed the CBA is, they spent time drafting up new changes to make it more fair, yet we can clearly see there are major issues with the new rules.

    I actually agree with the Mets, why should they be penalized just because Pittsburgh was incapable of signing their drafted player. The rules should have been written that if you fail to sign your draftee, that your compensation would be a draft pick similar but not better. I.E. if you had a top ten pick and he didn’t sign, you would get the 11th pick in next years draft. If two teams failed to sign a player, they would get compensation in order of their previous years record.

    The whole idea of compensation is quite ridiculous anyway, like another poster wrote about in another thread, compensation should only be offered if a team loses a player they drafted in his free agent year. There should be no compensation for losing free agents that you signed as free agents. If you can’t sign a player to a new deal after six years of a cheap salary, tough luck buddy. And a free agent whose is past arbitration, been traded, shouldn’t be penalized by compensation picks, i.e. what’s happened to Bourn and Lohse.

    It’s funny how they change the rules yet still find inefficiencies but are to stuck in tradition to modify the rules, this will go on for the next few years till they finally modify the CBA again.

    1. JR

      I agree Jeff. It’s impossible to tell how much money the CBA rules are costing players like Lohse and Bourn, but it just doesn’t seem right. If there wasn’t a pick tied to Bourn who knows a bidding war could have went down with the Mets and Mariners and he could have landed a $100 million deal. He’ll be lucky to see half that now.

  6. walterj

    In my opinion , I think the mets should be able to sign Bourn without losing their first rounder .On a different note , I really hope this is the year that both Lake and Vitters put it all together .

  7. Blublud

    I think they allow you to receive comp for a signed free agent because you payed comp to recieve him. Kind of like replacing the comp you payed if the player is still good. I agree with you though. A player should only be attached to comp if it’s the end of his arb years and he has never signed an extension past his arb years. If he’s signed to a contract that ends the same year his arb years would have, the team can still recieve comp. In other words, if you get only the allotted amount of service time from a player innitial contract, even if that contract is involved in a trade, then you can receive comp. If you get anything over the allotted service time, then you have benefited from that pick and you don’t receive comp. After a players innitial service time contract, he can no longer be attached to compensation. I think this makes sense.

    1. TheCubsFanFormerlyKnownAsJeff

      Agreed BluBlud

    2. Jeff

      I also agree with my alter-ego

  8. Chad

    As if the state of men’s tennis isn’t phenomenal enough at the moment; Federer in his prime with the other big 3 might still have favored the great Swede. Back to baseball. Is Bourn’s lack of signing with a new team really just about him being an aging speed guy or is it more about team’s assessing the value of drafts picks over signing a player? I also like the fact that it’s a Boras client. Maybe players who aren’t tops at their position might start to consider a different agent because he asks too much for players.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      I think that the other factor is that Boras is treating Bourn as if he (Bourn) is an elite CFer when Bourn really is a second quartile one who probably will drop to 3rd quartile in the next couple of years. Thus, Boras genuinely expected teams to be cuing up for Bourn just as they did for Upton. Instead, teams are not even willing to give up a draft pick for Bourn!

      1. Blublud

        I think Bourn is an elite outfielder. He is one of the few who has even Lefty vs righty splits so he does give you a disavantage against any pitcher. He has elite speed and can steal bases and what he does lack offensively against most players, he makes it up with defense. Bourn is an elite outfielder.

        1. Blublud

          *does not give you a disadvantage* edit button

  9. Mike Taylor (no relation)

    I think Brett and myself are in agreement about Junior Lake: if he continues to hit, he makes the ball club somehow. You stash him in the OF, have him DH during inter-league games, pinch hit, etc. Although, our last inter-league game is in July, before the All-Star break, but 2013 in Iowa is where he needs to press his advantage.

    He has the tools to be good in the corner OF spots, but needs to talk to whomever got Starlin Castro to concentrate. I think he’ll end up being the odd-man out when Baez and Soler come onto the scene and eventually gets included in a deal to Tampa for David Price, but that’s in 2014 and probably if he sees MLB at bats in 2013.

    There was talk last year of Vitters making a shift to LF, since he was tearing it up at AAA (which may not hold too much value, being the PCL and then we got to see a glimpse of what he’d do in limited time against lefties in September ::sigh::) and because we “had” acquired Olt in a deal for Garza last year (until he went on the DL). I do not know if he has the legs for the OF, but I think he’ll work hard to get some more MLB ABs.

    There are a lot of question marks about our OF once the 2013 season ends. Unless we’re in the thick of a surprising, NL Central race, you can bet that Schierholtz, Soriano and possibly DeJesus and Hairston are all traded at the deadline. That leaves Jackson, Sappelt and a bunch of kids from the AAA IF who’ll be displaced from the log-jammed, MLB IF.

    Vitters, Rohan, and Lake should all see MLB at bats and could very well see all of them coming from LF (ha). Speaking of Ha, on the other hand, he (Ha) could displace Jackson to RF and we could see a platoon of Jackson/Sappelt at the end of the year. Anything is possible, we’ll just have to see how well everyone performs.

    It’s very exciting to look down the road and imagine what’s ahead… and you could not have logically made that statement three years ago and that’s why I think Junior Lake fits into this category… getting Cub fans excited: Toolsy enough to have trade value and not a disappointment if he makes the roster later on in the year.

    1. ssckelley

      I doubt this happens but I would like to see Lake, Vitters, Valbuena, and Stewart all compete this spring for the starting third base job.

      1. AB

        I’d like to see Lake stick to a corner OF spot.

        I personally don’t think Lake has much trade value left, I believe he’s out of options after this year.

        1. Blublud

          If a rookie makes the team out of ST, I think it will be Lake. I not saying he makes its, just that if one does, it’ll be him. I think they still see Vitters as a starter so unless he has a open slot to start, he’ll be in Iowa. Same with Jackson. Lake could be a utility man, and a pretty damn good and maybe even play a little first base. He at least has the size to. I think it time to throw him to wolves and see what happens. We’ll see.

      2. DocPeterWimsey

        The Cubs should *not* make a decision among those four based on spring training results. The players are not facing MLB calibre pitching in a lot of games and the sample sizes are ridiculously small even for the guys who are playing “full time.”

        Remember, the “purpose” of spring training is to work four months of flab off of the players’ bodies, not to hold tryouts! (That purpose is completely anachronistic now, but they never have adjusted ST accordingly.)

      3. Mike Taylor (no relation)

        Valbuena will most likely platoon with Stewart and PH off of the bench (at least for the first half of the season).

  10. North Side Irish

    JIM BOWDEN ‏@JimBowdenESPNxm
    Jed Hoyer just told us “never say never ….but likely this is the team we go to spring training with” Sirius 209 XM 89′

    The way the Cubs FO speaks, I think that means a trade is coming…

  11. Njriv

    I’m more curious on how the bench is going to look like. So far its only Valbuena, Sappelt, Hairston/Schierholtz and Havarro. You would have to think they would add another utility infielder, or would you think that job would be given to Alberto Gonzalez?

    1. Mac

      Him, Lillibridge, and others will fight to win the job in spring is my guess

      1. Blublud

        Which is pretty, pretty sad. This is our weakest spot on the team. We have no legit backup candidates in the IF.

    2. Blublud

      If I have to watch Valbeuna again next year, I will puke. If Campana can only do one thing, then Valbeuna can do no things. Can’t hit, can’t run, can’t field, can’t throw but he can take a walk though.

  12. Blublud

    Valbeuna
    .219/310/340/.650. 0-2 SB

    Campana
    264/.308/.299/.607 30-33 SB

    But somebody said Valbeuna was much more proven. Did I mention Valbeuna plays horrible defense.

    1. cedlandrum

      He doesn’t play horrible defense. He is a pretty good 3rd basemen and passable SS and can play 2nd base at a decent level.

    2. Tom A.

      OK OK OK Let’s hope the Cubs keep like 6 or 7 or eve 8 outfielders so that Campana can stay in the major leagues. Why compare Valbeuna and Campana at all, as each has a different role and position ?

      I can’t wait until we can release, trade, waive, whatever Campana — As that means we have a better major legue team !

      1. Blublud

        I hope we can waive Campana too, when Almora and Soler, maybe Lake, Jackson and Szczur (not saying they all will make it) are our OFers, but not for Shierholtz and Sappelt.
        It’s actually not a stretch that if given a chance he could be better then everybody on that list not named Soler.

        1. Tom A.

          I say our top 5 outfielders are DeJesus, Soriano, Hairston, Schierholz and Jackson. You can start to bash Jackson now, but I like him and think he is going to have a break-out year.

          Comparing Sappelt and Campana is like deciding who do you want to add first when we have an injury to one of our major league roster players. Again, in my opinion, I would go with the one-year younger with more possible upside (as an all-around player) in Sappelt over Campana. Campana is 27 and still not major league ready, with a strong talent that quickly starts to lessen with age (say at 30 and beyond based on baseball history).

          Now, as I have suggested on other posts, Campana may indeed remain with the major league team should Soriano and/or DeJesus get traded (as once rumored).

          1. Blublud

            I think Jackson is the best player on that list not named Soler. I’m not sold on Almora yet, but I think Jackson is a good ball player with one issue. I think he is better then Campana. But if he doesn’t fix his strike out problem, Campana will have the better career. I hope he fixes it and is in the bigs as early as possible.

            1. Rich H

              I think you got that backwards. ” Jackson is the best player on this list not named Almora. Soler I am not sold on yet.”

              The reason I say that is that there is a problem with Solers swing. He is said to be doing something called armbarring it. Meaning he has a slight hitch in his swing that if he doesn’t correct can end up being huge holes in it later in the minors or the major league level. It is fixable but it takes patience. Love Solers upside but he has some fundamental adjustments to make before you can put him in the top 5 outfielders conversation yet.

              Here is a link on Cubsden talking about Solers swing if you are interested.

              http://www.chicagonow.com/cubs-den/2013/01/cubs-notes-soriano-brooks-raley-solers-swing-and-2013-playing-level/

              1. Blublud

                Almora has all the makings of being a bust pick. I agree he could turn out great, as he has the tools, but he could just as easily not make it. I hope he does, but he is not better then Soler or Jackson yet. He overrated.

                1. Njriv

                  How can you have such a strong opinion on Almora? He hardly even played last summer and in his short stints he did pretty well. He could draw some more walks, but he is still in the very early stages of his development. I just don’t get it.

                  1. JR

                    The thing that makes me very nervous about Almora is that he is played so much baseball in his life. How much room for growth does he really have? And yeah his walk rate is ridiculous.

                    1. Marc N.

                      At 18 I think it’s OK to say he has room to grow, and rookie ball walk rate is borderline irrelevant. Where art thou Mitch Einerstein?

                    2. DocPeterWimsey

                      Almost all of these guys have played a ton of baseball. At any rate, nobody has documented anything like a correlation between how much guys played in their youth and how quickly they flame out..

                      I do confess that those walk numbers are a little troubling, but the sample size was pretty small, and his K rate was under 10%, which means that it is not like he was swinging and missing at a lot of bad pitches. If I recall, then he showed a good batting eye as an amateur: and at this point, I would still project based on that.

                  2. Drew7

                    “How can you have such a strong opinion on Almora?”

                    Do you realize who you are talking to?

                2. Blublud

                  Let me rephrase. I don’t think Almora will he a bust, just that compared to Jackson, and on a closer level, Soler, he has more bust potential. When I say overrated, I mean he should not be the #2 prospect in the system yet, and he shouldn’t be rated higher then Soler, not that’s he overrated overall as a player.

    3. Carew

      where are you getting the idea he can’t play defense?

      1. DocPeterWimsey

        Valbuena seems to be a pretty good fielder, both for range and glove work. Valbuena also has a good batting eye. So, those are a three good tools right there. Unfortunately, Valbuena does not have great contact skills or much power, though. That limits his usefulness as an everyday guys considerably.

        1. Blublud

          This may be true, but he just looked horrible on both sides offense and defense last year.

          1. MichiganGoat

            BluBud I think you are doing some voodoo observation to justify Campsna’s usefulness. If your eyes are telling you that Valbeuna is bad at offense & defense then you eyes must be telling you that Campana is equally horrible.

          2. Hansman1982

            FYI – Valbuena had the same wOBA as Campana last year (when giving campana credit for his SB).

            1. Drew7

              Bah! Metrics are stupid…

            2. Tom A.

              Now, now, now — Metrics can not be stupid. It is only possible that some people that use metrics are stupid. However, in this case the metrics using person does not appear stupid.

              1. Drew7

                Guess I should’ve done something to emphasize the sarcasm. Any of you Tweeter-er’s know how to do that?

                1. Tom A.

                  You were being sarcastic — My bad then and sorry !

                2. DarthHater

                  I usually indicate sarcasm with a: ;-)

                  Lame, but it does prevent misunderstanding.

      2. Blublud

        By watching at least 125-130 of the Cubs games last season.

        1. Carew

          I watched a lot of games too…I just don’t see what you see…That’s fine, just your opinion

        2. Drew7

          Im no Valbuena fan, but there is nothing horrible about his defense.

  13. cubzforlife

    I don’t get it. How does that mean a trade is coming?

    1. North Side Irish

      It doesn’t really…they made a statement earlier in the offseason about probably being done adding to their rotation, and then signed Jackson and Villanueva. Then they made another statement about the OF being set and ended up signing Hairston.

      They keep saying they are done, but they will always be willing to add when their is value to be found.

  14. Die hard

    Lake seems to be the second coming of Shawn Dunston who had a decent career

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      Lake and Dunston share similar flaws in their tool kits. However, Dunston was performing far better in AA at a younger age than Lake. Moreover, for guy with this tool kit who turns out to be Dunston, dozens and dozens more turn out to be Dee Gordon or guys that we never even remember.

      1. Jeff1969

        Looking at what Dunston did in the minors & then the majors is really amazing. His power arrived almost immediately after coming up to the Cubs. His basestealing tapered off considerably. His fielding, or his frequency of errors, which was compared to Roy Smalley Sr. (ie, terrifyingly large) wasn’t nearly as bad as advertised, his obp was worse in the minors. He was just a freak, his numbers a mess. But he had a load of talent & luckily for him & the Cubs, he managed to play the major league level with all those massive flaws. Lake? At this point, it’s all hope. The fact that he hasn’t fallen completely on his face yet is encouraging, but I’m viewing him as a nice suprise if he contributes or gets traded & brings the Cubs anything in return.

        1. DocPeterWimsey

          Dunston was not so much a “load of talent” as he was extremely good at getting a bat on a baseball. That might sound wrong given his high K rates, but because his batting eye was so bad, pitchers were not throwing him many strikes: Dunston was making a lot of relatively solid contact on balls nearly in the dirt, balls a foot outside and balls near his shoulders. I sometimes thought that he could play tennis with a baseball bat. (Just think about how difficult that would be!)

          Dunston was blazing fast – I doubt that Campana is as fast, for example – but he was a pretty awful baserunner: even in the minors, his SB:CS ratios were pretty poor, and they generally were bad in MLB. He simply took too long to start running after the pitcher let go of the ball or after the ball was hit.

          Dunston was probably a better SS than people expected because during Dunston’s time, fielders were judged solely on errors. However, he had a pretty good range, so he was still creating more outs overall than guys with fewer errors.

          The irony is that Dunston was long labelled “inconsistent,” but he was, in fact, quite consistent: he swung at everything and when Eris smiled, he looked good; when she didn’t, he didn’t.

  15. BD

    If his arm is that great, maybe Junior Lake should be a pitcher.