As teams around baseball scramble this time of year to self-identify as buyers, sellers, or something more nuanced, every organization is looking ahead to August and September, and, in many cases, beyond.
Will we get enough production from our 25-man roster to stay in contention? Will we need to go outside the organization to make dramatic upgrades? Will we get a bump from younger players coming up and contributing down the stretch? Are some youngsters more valuable in trade than they are to our big-league team? How can we be sure of the difference? To whom am I asking these questions, exactly?
The Chicago Cubs are as unquestionably in the playoff hunt this year as they are in need of better performance in the second half to stay there. While the Cubs have been the benefactor of impressive pitching thus far, they’re going to need to add another starting pitcher before it’s all said and done. The offense has not been as productive lately, but is a trickier beast to address externally, what with all eight positions held down by long-term starters, veterans slated for positive regression, and/or youngsters getting on-the-job training. It’s conceivable that the Cubs could make a notable addition in the coming days. It’s also conceivable that they’ll have to rely on any offensive improvements coming from within the organization. The latter might come in the form of players on the big-league roster improving their results, or it could come from players not yet on the 25-man roster, but who are just an easy option away.
I speak, of course, of the handful of young players currently on the Cubs’ 40-man roster, each of whom could contribute off of the big-league team’s bench before the year is up (or could contribute to a trade package in the next week and a half).
It’s worth checking in on four of those players, each of whom is playing well at Triple-A Iowa right now (stats through Monday, July 20):
Touted for years as among the best natural athletes in the Cubs’ system—but also among the rawest and least consistent—Junior Lake has had his chances to break through with the big-league team over the last two years. It seems that, when it became clear that his unique power/speed combination was not going to play at the big-league level with such a dramatic hole at the bottom of his zone, Lake reinvented himself over the course of the offseason, lowering his base and developing a more patient approach at the plate. He sacrificed a great deal of power in the process … but that might be coming back.