While nothing about Nate Schierholtz getting hurt during outfield work on Friday makes me happy – well, except for the fact that he’s OK - it was very intrigued to read about how the injury occurred: Schierholtz and Junior Lake collided in right center.
That means Lake was doing work in center field, where he played a fair bit in the Dominican Winter League. To be sure, it was probably always a lock that Lake would see some Spring Training practice time in center field – why not? – but if it’s the first step in giving him a serious look out there, I’d be very pleased. I have serious reservations that Lake’s bat will ever play regularly in left field. But, if he manages to turn his physical ability into average or above-average center field defense? And if he keeps the strikeouts under control? Suddenly, the Cubs could have a cost-controlled, high upside, young, 2-to-3-win player in center field.
All that said, as I’ve discussed before, the Cubs are likely to move pretty much everyone all over the outfield this year, given that there are no obvious set starters. Schierholtz will see a ton of time in right, and I do think Ryan Sweeney also presents some nice value in center field, too. We know that Sweeney’s defense in CF is probably at least average, so, thinking ahead: if we see Lake getting regular starts in center when the season starts, we’ll know either that the coaching staff believes Lake’s CF defense is above average (which would be awesome), or the organization has made a decision that they want to see, from a development/value perspective, how Lake performs with an extended look in center (also fine).
None of the projection systems like Lake too much, which I suppose is worth pointing out. PECOTA has him at .245/.286/.375 for 2014 (23 SB, 12 HR), and ZiPS has him at .252/.295/.380 (20 SB, 10 HR). Although he trails in those counting stats, the projections greatly prefer Sweeney: PECOTA has Sweeney at .272/.331/.396, and ZiPS has him at .264/.321/.408.
Jesse Rogers recently wrote about Lake, and got a bit from Cubs GM Jed Hoyer on the tools-rich 23-year-old, as well as some thoughts from Lake, himself. It’s a good read, and, in it, Lake says he prefers to play center field over left.
We’ll see if he gets his wish, and if he can perform there. Games start soon, and we’ll start to see what’s what.