Per the Urban Dictionary, the phrase “hot mess” means, “When ones thoughts or appearance are in a state of disarray, but they maintain an undeniable attractiveness or beauty.” When scouting Junior Lake during the Southern League playoffs, his game was part car wreck, but I simply could not help but be enamored with his tools. Rocket arm. Explosive hand speed. Plus runner. Other than the way he actually played baseball, there was nothing not to like.
Now this assessment may seem a little bit harsh, but when placed into the context of a 21-year old Dominican prospect who was young for the level of competition, it’s pretty much par for the course. Of course after four years and 1,850 minor league plate appearances, one would hope for a more development from a baseball standpoint, but Lake can log another 1,000+ plate appearances at the minor league level and still break through at 24, an age when many big league regulars surface.
In terms of athleticism, Lake has the frame and explosive movements to make scouts swoon. Listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, it’s easy to dream on a more disciplined Lake eventually learning how to tap into his power potential to become a 20-20 threat at whatever position he settles into. But for all his raw athleticism, Lake’s perceived lack of body control negates at least some of his ability to turn tools into baseball production. Even if Lake does not blossom into a big leaguer, his tools alone are likely to keep him in the game for many years to come on the small chance things click.
Offensively, Lake’s swing is messy and in need of significant quieting. With explosive wrists and plus bat speed, he simply does not need the extra movement to generate power. In fact, Lake quieting his stance may result in a spike in power production as his timing may improve resulting in more consistent, hard contact.
In game action, movement in his stance literally changed every at bat and the violent waggle mid-load is a disruptive force, as is the present foot tap to a lesser extent. When a scout mentions, “Player A will occasionally run into a pitch.” Junior Lake is a prime example as his timing mechanism will severely limit his ability to truly square up.
Fortunately for Lake, the Boston Red Sox were excellent at quieting hitters with “loud” hitting mechanics and pieces of that regime are now in Chicago. This leaves me much more bullish on his ability to adjust after witnessing Oscar Tejeda post back-to-back campaigns of sub-.300 wOBA’s in the South Atlantic League before a mechanical overhaul led to a spike in production and a .350+ wOBA at the high-A level.
On defense, Lake has one of the best arms in all of minor league baseball. At some point, a move to the mound may become an option if the organization were to deem his development as a position player a lost cause. In the field, his lack of body control leads to poor footwork and many errors. In the AFL Rising Stars game, his defensive flaws were on display as he made a throwing error and also muffed a softly hit ball behind the pitchers mound. A need to move off the position is likely with center field or third base being a more likely landing spot in the long run.
In pulling a 60-65 run time on the 20/80 scale from video, Lake is a plus runner. With 38 stolen bases in 44 attempts, base running is the most polished aspect of his game. With his physique, his speed should continue to be a weapon for years to come leaving him with the potential for 25+ stolen bases annually should he reach Chicago for good. In many respects, his game resembles that of a poor man’s B.J. Upton without the added value of bases on balls.
In terms of tools, few are more impressive than shortstop Junior Lake, but the gap between them and his present baseball skills is cavernous. Of course organizations and scouts alike are more likely to covet a skill set similar to Lake’s and turn them over to the player development staff to cultivate them into in game production. Of players scouted over the past few seasons, I’ve seen few whose tools I’d prefer to roll the proverbial dice on, but Lake is admittedly more boom or bust than most would want to see in a prospect at the double-A level.