What we are seeing now is the Dr. Jekyll side of Lake. This is the guy with explosive tools highlighted by an incredible arm. This is the elite athlete translating his physical gifts into baseball skills. This is the prospect that occasionally left the crowd breathless as he moved through the minors.
And I hope that is the only side of Junior Lake the major leagues ever see, but I’m not optimistic. I suspect Mr. Hyde is still in there and it is only a matter of time before Lake flails through an at bat looking more lost than some confused people on an island. [Brett: They had good reason to be confused, because the island constantly subjected them to mysteries and surprises, and ... sorry.]. The more sporadic play that comes with the outfield may temper his inconsistencies in that department, but don’t be surprised if he starts mixing jaw dropping throws with equally boneheaded misplays now and then.
In a nutshell, that’s the Junior Lake I am used to seeing in the minors. One minute he shows those flashes of brilliance that make fans excited, and the next he checks out in the middle of a play leaving fans awash with frustration. And those two extremes can come on consecutive plays. You’ll love him. You’ll hate him. You’ll dream of what he could be if only … and you’ll mock yourself for holding onto that hope. I think Lake is destined not only to be a fan favorite, but to spark an increase in post game beer sales all over Chicago.
Even though he was one of my favorite prospects to follow on the farm, I’m glad he’s in the majors. I think the Cubs will consistently be more fun to watch when Lake is in the lineup.
Iowa Cubs : 49-52
The Cubs have slid back under .500 and back down into a tie for first with the Memphis Redbirds. And with a brutal, extended road trip out West starting on Friday, it could be tough for the Cubs to hold that position. The next two weeks are going to be key for the playoffs hopes of Iowa.
Tennessee Smokies : 18-9
Not only do they have a three game lead for first place in their division, the Tennessee Smokies currently have the best record in the Southern League. They are winning at home, they are winning on the road, and they are winning with a good mixture of good pitching and a very potent lineup. Right now the Smokies are probably the best ticket in the farm system.
Daytona Cubs : 15-10-1
The Cubs are staying in first, but they haven’t been able to pull away from the pesky Brevard County Manatees quite yet. That Milwaukee organization is still lurking just a game and a half back of the Cubs. With a sub-.500 road record, though, there is room for the Cubs to show some improvement on their way (hopefully) to the playoffs.
Kane County Cougars : 6-21
Kane County is giving up 5.38 runs per game, the worst in the Midwest League. That is a big reason why they have a very hard time winning games.
The news is not all bad, though. They are fourth in team OBP with a .337, fourth in team SLG with a .394, and are third in the league in home runs with 65. Their strike out total is the third lowest, and best off all they are putting up these very competitive numbers with the youngest collection of hitters in the league. Despite the dismal record the hitters are showing plenty of reason for optimism.
Boise Hawks : 19-17
The streaky Hawks have surged back over .500, but they remain four games out of first. Salem-Keizer of the Giant’s organization not only leads the Hawks, they have clinched the first half title in the Northwest League South Division. That means the records turn back to 0-0 soon and Boise will get a crack at earning a playoff slot in the second half.
Arizona AZL Cubs : 11-12
Arizona is also eliminated for now, sitting a game under .500 and an incredible eight games out of first. The AZL Giants have managed to go 19-4 and have run away with the Arizona League East.
Cutting Through The Fog
Prospect names are being tossed around like candy in a New Year’s Day Parade right now, and mostly in connection with the Garza trade. Even for veteran prospect watchers it can be tough to pull off rapid evaluations on all these names on the fly; there are simply too many prospects in the minors for any one person to have complete knowledge of all of them. For casual Cub fans the problem is even worse. Separate analysts can tell you two radically different things about the same player. Even on Bleacher Nation, as you have probably noticed, Brett and I do not always agree completely.
So what is a Cub fan to do? I can’t turn you all into prospect experts in ten minutes, but I can give you a few guidelines to go by when trying to make up your own minds.
When trying to decide what rankings to value and what rankings to ignore, look for who you do know. For example: Does a particular list still place Brett Jackson near the top for the Cubs? Then it is probably a pre-season list and may not be accurate anymore. Look also for players you know were traded in the pre-season or have been promoted to the majors and no longer count as prospects. Those indicators can give you a good idea which lists are up to date and which are old and not quite as helpful.
Also, consider the source. As a rule, single-team writers (like me) know the depth of their own farm system better than the national writers, but national prospect writers have a better grasp of the league wide Top 250 prospects or so, not to mention the relative strengths of the various farm systems. For example, if a very good Oakland blog ranks a player as the third best pitcher in that system and a national writer tells you that Oakland has a system with a lot of good pitching depth, then you can safely expect that the player in question is a pretty good prospect.
With all due respect to the great work done by beat writers around the country, all too often they only know what they are told about prospects. Local major league newspaper writers are (with some exceptions) among the worst sources for accurate prospect evaluation out there. They love to drop the “top prospect” label on players, even if the prospect projects as a bench/utility players at best. That said, they are among the best sources for the names being discussed in a deal. If a newspaper writer tells you that Heaters McFast is being discussed in a trade and is a “top prospect” in somebody’s organization you are probably safe assuming that the discussed part is right. Verifying the “top prospect” part is probably a good idea, though.
Most importantly, though, look at the key stats and make up your own mind. By now we know the red flags that mark prospects who are going to have a harder time succeeding in the majors. If a player is old for his league, has a high strikeout rate as a hitter, a high walk rate as a pitcher, or has a wOBA below the average for the league, then it would probably be good to view that player with caution unless you can find some additional context that explains the stat in question.
Likewise, if a player is young for the league, has a high percentage of extra base hits and a high OBP as a hitter, or a low hits per nine and a high strikeout to walk ratio as a pitcher, you can feel comfortable that this is probably a pretty good player. None of those indicators are perfect, of course, and there are plenty more where those came from, but they are a good place to start on the road to prospect evaluation.
And finally, just remember that nothing is certain. There are no guarantees in baseball. The best every team can do is try to shift the odds in their favor. Acquiring depth in the farm system is one way of doing just that. Once we admit that a large percentage of prospects do not pan out, even among the very good prospects, then it makes sense to load up on as many good prospects as possible. It also makes sense to screen those prospects, though, to make sure that those coming into the system are those with the best chance of success.