Will Junior Lake Get a Shot in Center Field?

junior lake cubsWhile 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.

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

72 responses to “Will Junior Lake Get a Shot in Center Field?”

  1. Jim

    From what I saw of Lake in center last year he looked the part. Good ball awareness, good arm, great speed in all directions. I believe he has the tools, and as you said, his value there is much much higher.

  2. SenorGato

    I think Sweeney should be the CFer until/unless he gets hurt. I’m most confident in Sweeney in the OF group.

  3. MightyBear

    Soon they’ll be wearing shirts with World Series Champs on them.


  4. Blackhawks1963

    My assumption is that the Cubs will break camp with the following 5 outfielders on the roster (pending of course injuries or somebody imploding).


    I’m rooting for Lake, but honestly I see major league pitchers eating him up now that they have a book on him. Hope to be proven otherwise. It would be nice if Lake could become a decent semi-regular in the outfield.

    1. Jon

      I’d be pretty pissed if they took Coughlan over Vitters. Vitters at least has some upside.

      1. Blackhawks1963

        The same Josh Vitters who has minimally played the outfield since being in the Cub system and spent the vast bulk of 2013 not playing period?

        Vitters is a longshot to make the roster. He’ll need a very strong spring to dissuade the Cubs in this regard.

        1. Jon

          No the same Josh Vitters that put up a line of 304/356/513 in AAA at the age of 22.

          Coughlan hasn’t been relevant since 2009 with a flukish rookie year. There is nothing there.

          1. JadeBos

            FWIW Co-worker buddy of mine who’s a serious Marlins fan says don’t be surprised when Coughlan makes the team. He’s just that guy. The that does everything right.

            1. hansman

              I find it hard to trust anyone who is a “serious” Marlins “fan”.

              The Marlins don’t even take themselves seriously.

              1. C. Steadman

                or their ballpark

              2. DocPeterWimsey

                Maybe it should read “the” serious Marlins fan.

          2. Cubs_Questions

            I think Vitters will start at AAA. I’m rooting for him, but the injury problems in addition to still learning the outfield make it likely (in my eyes) that he’ll be starting in the outfield at AAA before getting another crack at the bigs.

        2. Kyle

          The corner outfield still isn’t that hard to play.

          1. DarthHater


            1. FullCountTommy

              Hahahahahaha so perfect

            2. hansman

              Damn you!

          2. hansman

            I dunno…Yonder Alonso sure made it look challenging.

          3. mjhurdle

            Canseco disagrees :)

            1. DarthHater

              That’s because he got bonked on the head and doesn’t know what he’s saying. :-D

            2. Isaac

              My brother was at that game….

            3. johnnyp

              Damn I wanted to link this GIF in for the Olt swinging at fly balls in the outfield article. Lol.

          4. C. Steadman

            not hard to play, but still hard to be good…its just the easiest position to hide a big bat (besides 1B)

        3. C. Steadman

          i’d rather have Vitters over Coghlan, Coghlan isnt a good defender himself and Vitters has a superior bat

        4. hansman

          0% chance. Maybe he’ll play OF for the Dodgers.

      2. woody

        Seems you have a “bromance” going for Vitters. How many years has it been since he signed? Like 8 years I think. Look at Coghlins 2009 stats when he was rookie of the year. I would say they are both in pretty much the same boat. To say that Vitters has more upside is misleading. Since Vitters has never had any success what so ever at the big league level. In all probability they may both get a cup of coffee. If one or the other makes the team and flounders then the other on will get a shot..

        1. FullCountTommy

          Upside and success at the big league level are two very different things. Vitters has more upside, and it’s not close

        2. C. Steadman

          upside=potential….age 24 vs 28, Vitters has more potential

        3. Jon

          “Look at Coghlins 2009 stats when he was rookie of the year.”

          Which might be a relevant task/…if not for the fact it’s now 2014.

          1. Jon

            Also that has to be the worst ROY ever, no?

            1. Patrick W.

              Randy Wells had a good argument for 2009 ROY. J.A. Happ as well. Even Andrew McCutchen could be a better choice.

    2. Javier Bryant

      I could see them going with 4 OF’s and using Bonifacio as the “5th OF” of course, that probably means Olt made the team out of spring training

    3. Austin8466

      I think Kalish will break camp with the Cubes.

      1. CubChymyst

        I think it is more likely that Kalish is in the minors since he is coming back from a string of injuries and is a lefty.

        1. C. Steadman

          agreed, i think Cubs go righty with the 5th OF

  5. another JP

    Lake seems to be guy that’s anxious to improve his game, just like Beef Castillo. I know his projections aren’t favorable this year but I think Junior has the capability to keep a high BABIP since he has some speed. Until he proves otherwise Lake should be starting- either in CF or LF.

  6. davidalanu

    I think the way he juggles the OF will be one of the main opportunities for Renteria to show his worth. If he can take this collection of mostly cast-offs and turn it into a productive rotation/platoons, it’ll go a long way.

  7. ClevelandCubsFan

    I just have this image of a very sad Junior Lake singing softly to himself from a far corner of the bench…

    Oh, pongame, entrenador! Estoy listo para jugar hoy!
    Pongame, entrenador! Estoy listo para jugar hoy!
    Mirame! Yo ser puerdo jardín central.

    1. woody

      “Yo ser puerdo jardin central”. Are you using a translator? And “puerdo”? Do you mean “puedo”? In the first place “ser” is the unconjugated verb. So with “yo” it is “soy”. I am uncertain where you got the word “puerdo” from? But I think you have it backwards. ” Yo puedo ser jardin central”. Translated is ” I can be center field” Puedo is the conjugation of the verb ” poder “. which in this instance is ” can “..

      1. ClevelandCubsFan

        Puerdo was a typo. Are you familiar with the Fogerty song?

        Put me in coach! I’m ready to play, today!
        Look at me! I can be centerfield.

        I used a combination of sources and don’t claim it’s perfectly accurate. It was more in fun.

        This one is good: http://www.baseball-reference.com/friv/English_to_Spanish.pdf

        1. woody

          Yes I am familiar with that song. Puedo ser is the correct sequence. If you use two verbs combined you conjugate the first one and the second is unconjugated. I don’t know all the technical names for the tenses, but I lived in Central America for about ten years. My Spanish is pretty good.

          ( pats self on back )

          1. ClevelandCubsFan

            I think I took that part from a music video that was dubbed in Spanish. Was probably a typo on their fault. My wife is fluent. I just mumble stuff and try not to get shot.

            1. woody

              I take it you just like looking at the Telemundo babes. Me too!

  8. Kyle

    I think it’s interesting that our defense is probably going to be really great across the board except for the two most important defensive positions, SS and CF, where we’ll be average-ish.

    1. Chad

      But their hitting makes up for their defense….oh wait.

  9. Cubsin

    Lake’s bat plays better in center field. Sweeney’s bat plays better in center field. For that matter, Schierholtz’s bat would play better in center field if he could handle the position defensively. But if those three are your starting outfielders, Schierholtz plays RF, the better defensive CF plays center and the other guy plays LF. If they’re both in the lineup, it makes no sense to me to put the better hitter in CF unless he’s also a better defensive CF.

    1. JadeBos

      I think they all play better as 4th Outfielders.

  10. CubChymyst

    If Lake is in center I like the outfield chances beat the projections for it this past offseason and being better than last years.

  11. woody

    The writers and scouts have always said that Lake has a ton of potential, but was very raw in his skill set and undisiplined. But as far as raw talent and potential tool set he is above any of these other guys. When he got his shot he made the most of it.. Judging by his winter league stats he is making good on that potential. Seems the same guys that knock Castro, like to bash Junior too. With his speed he is going to beat out a lot of ground balls. Combined with his bunting skills and line drive hitting he has the potential to be dynamite if he can walk a little bit more and cut down on strikeouts.

  12. Justin

    To me Lake seems like a guy that is so athletic and long that it takes a bit longer to put everything together.. Once he gets everything synchronized I can see him being better than he was in the minors.

    1. woody

      And may I add to that advantage of having Renteria as manager this year. How are you going to develope players if you can’t comunicate with them? Not a knock on Sveum, but realistically how could Dale have an in depth conversation with Lake? There will be some people eating crow this year. Maybe me, but I don’t think so.

  13. Mark_Graces_Sponsor

    Is Lake’s arm still graded as a 8 in the OF? I know it was in the IF and regarded as the strongest in all the minors, but was wondering if that changes by moving out there.

    1. woody

      I would have to believe that a strong arm is a strong arm. It should play well on any part of the field.

  14. Blackhawks1963

    Lets face it. The 2014 outfield situation is going to be ugly. I’m hard pressed to think of any team across baseball with a more dismal mix of outfielders by which to pick the 5 who go north with the team on April 1st. Schierholz is the best of the bunch, but even he is a platoon type. Sweeney is a journeyman who on his best days will be tolerable short term option. Who knows if Lake can hit major league pitching…he might turn out to be serviceable or he might wind up a novelty act that goes “poof” by June 1st. Coughlan and Ruggiano seem to fit the bill as spare outfielders…nothing more. Kalish is a low risk flyer the Cubs can stash at Iowa. The Vitters ship has sailed, but maybe he can demonstrate something at Iowa where a mid-season call up can be in order (take Lake’s spot once he craps out?). Szczur probably needs a full season at Iowa, but even then he projects as a spare outfielder type. Ditto Andreoli.

    The real key to the outfield situation changing is when Baez or Bryant gets moved out there. Which seems inevitable unless Castro gets traded next offseason.

    1. CubChymyst

      I like Andreoli. The guy is a tweener, not good enough for center and not enough bat for the corners. But he puts up good OBP and has decent speed. I think he could fall into a Reed Johnson type role long term.

    2. woody

      Blackhawks you are usually right. To be blunt we are fielding 5 players that would never be starters with any other team. Take the lack of a third base option, combined with Barney who is making his way into utility man obscurity, and that leaves only three viable position players on this team, Rizzo, Castro and Castillo. Now I know there are teams that are weak in one or two positions, but in five! That’s absurd. And I’m not saying this to be mean or to provoke a response. It is simply the truth. Why did the Mets sign Granderson and Colon? Probably because the fans and the press in New York would never give them a pass on fielding a team like we are. Fortunatley we have the prospects in the pipeline to allow Theo and company to get away with this for one more year.

      1. DocPeterWimsey

        *cough* Astros *cough*

      2. hansman

        “Why did the Mets sign Granderson and Colon? Probably because the fans and the press in New York would never give them a pass on fielding a team like we are.”

        The fan and press reaction for every team out there would be no different than for the Cubs. Some fans/press would hate it, some fans/press would love it, some fans/press wouldn’t give a shit.

  15. Napercal

    In a year that is to be written off, the Cubs would be making a huge mistake by basing their decision on whether to play Lake every day on algorithms. Lake has obvious talents like speed and a strong arm that can’t be taught. He has shown improvement as he has progressed through the system. I don’t have statistical projections for all of the players in the history of the game, but I would shocked if there were not many young players who had low sabermetric projections that went on to have outstanding careers. Play Lake every day and find out what he is worth. He could be a far more valuable piece of the development puzzle or trading chip than anything else that will be in the outfield this season.

    1. Jon

      Starling Marte is an optimistic, realistic, recent comp?

      1. Napercal

        Thank you. I’ll take that. You can’t just write these young guys off because of analytics. The other guys on the roster are what they are. There is little to no upside and probably quite a bit of downside. The game still has to be played on the field.

        1. Jon

          Marte really is an interesting case, especially juxtaposed against Lake. Neither take a walk to save their life. Both have K% in the low 20′s. Marte got by on high BABIP last year(though much of that could be sustainable), and alot of HBP, which drove up his OBP.

    2. Kyle

      “Algorithms” being code for “actual records of how he performed at baseball.”

    3. TWC

      “In a year that is to be written off, the Cubs would be making a huge mistake by basing their decision on whether to play Lake every day on algorithms.”

      Who the shit is suggesting they will?

      The statistophobes go to some great lengths to set up fantasy worlds that they can then feel good about shitting on in blog comment sections.

  16. Diehardthefirst

    Hope Dunston given fair shot to play CF this spring – he’s got more talent defensively than any OF on Cubs 40

  17. Espy

    Well once again we will miss you by a few weeks Brett!
    Have fun!!!

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