Cubs Junior Lake: Boom or Bust Prospect

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.




Print This Post



Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.


57 Responses to “Cubs Junior Lake: Boom or Bust Prospect”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. JRH says:

    What an awkward, slightly racist, introductory paragraph. You equate “minority” with “inner city,” and hey! now that you’re back in white bread suburbia, you don’t “need to keep up with [that] dialect.” Back to the Queen’s English for you! As if every cultural group, white bread suburbanites included, didn’t have their own “dialect.”

    Also, “hot mess” has become a pretty widely used expression, not just a bit of “dialect” from those exotic “minority” “inner-city” people.

    -50 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike Newman says:

      Really JRH? That’s how you took it? I spent four years trying to make a difference with underprivileged students in a largely minority public school system in Savannah before moving to the suburbs of Atlanta. Before that, I spent three years working with students with mental health issues in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. At one of the schools I worked at, the student/staff was comprised of 450 people of which less than 10 total were Caucasian. To connect with students, I had to learn the dialect and terminology my students used. My first paragraph was meant only to frame my use of the term “hot mess”. If you perceived it as racist, I apologize, but I was simply trying to explain my frame of reference as somebody who picked up the term in Savannah which at last check had a population which was 2/3 African American.

      +26 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • This guy says:

        No need to apologize, Mike. Some people look for ways to be offended by others, and they usually find it.

        +19 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • JRH says:

        Mike,

        I do apologize for leading off with the incendiary “r” word. That word inevitably leads in the opposite direction from rational discourse. And, I should say, you have a great scouting eye and this was a very insightful report on a high-ceiling prospect that yet has many obstacles that may keep him from reaching his potential.

        I should also say that it’s great of you to serve as a teacher of students who have been underprivileged or disadvantaged in one way or another. As a teacher myself, I know this is hard work that is never justly compensated. You wouldn’t undertake this work if you weren’t a selfless, good-hearted human being.

        I do, however, take some issue with this statement: “Always know the man and his experiences before making assumptions and slapping a label on him.” Well, you’re a writer, and I will likely never meet you–so all I have to go on are the words that you put into the public sphere. And the tone of your opening paragraph seemed, to my ear, unnecessary to your overall point, a little condescending in its tone, and not entirely complimentary to the community that I’m sure you served with good intentions and hard work. And, I see you did revise the opening paragraph a bit.

        Your words are all most of us will know you by, and although my tone was unnecessarily confrontational, I hope you realize that I’m not the only one who was put off by your opening paragraph. In fact, I’m not the kind of reader who wants to “find” racism or sexism or homophobia or whatever where it doesn’t seem to exist. But your opening paragraph struck a chord that didn’t sit well with me. In retrospect, a measured, more polite email to you directly would have been appropriate.

        Again, I apologize for my tone–it’s not a reflection of who or what I strive to be. Thanks for your hard work, both as a teacher and as a scout.

        With respect,
        Jon

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Tom says:

        So Mike, you’re looking for some kind of badge while “celebrating” black history month? Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.

        -20 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mike Newman says:

        Much appreciated JRH. I was more taken aback and confused at my words being framed in that light when I was only referencing something I actually experienced.

        Today, I don’t live in the city anymore, but could just as easily write about driving 20 miles west and having absolutely no idea what farmers were saying in the country either. The amount of times I’ve responded with, “excuse me” to people in over-alls is probably in the hundreds by now.

        One of the things I struggle with at Fangraphs is the, “but you’re a writer” sentiment. I would frame myself as a father, husband, educator, scout and then writer on a good day. The ironic part of this is the first paragraph you took offense to was an attempt share experiences outside of baseball and allow readers like yourself to know me better.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mike Newman says:

        No Tom. It is what it is. If you would like to bash me for spending years in the trenches trying to make a difference, that’s completely your prerogative.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mac says:

      Speaking of harsh criticism…

      There’s little need to extrapolate more than is actually there, sir.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • TDW says:

      Don’t apologize to this asshole JRH, manners are privilege extended to the deserving. Mike thank you for your breakdown, I appreciate you bringing your expertise to this free site, and offering us all perspective we can’t find in the just the numbers. Oh Yeah and JRH go ahead and Jim Norton’s homepage.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mike Newman says:

        Thanks, I hate the idea of having to write things so straightforward, but each time I try to include a slightly different description or frame of reference, it leads to this sort of thing. It’s a pretty big downer actually.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bob says:

      I’ve been reading FanGraphs for years and have never felt the need to negatively comment on another posting (maybe an article or two…) until now. How you could equate what Mike wrote with anything even hinting at racism is just stupid dude. Go away.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • MC says:

        Exactly. There was nothing even REMOTELY racist in that post. I also find it ironic how those most sensitive to racism (of black people) have no qualms whatsoever with dispensing by the truckload with racist or backhanded comments (about white people) – i.e. “white bread suburbia” etc. Perhaps JRH can explain the term “white bread suburbia”, which I find offensive.

        There was nothing in the definition of “hot mess” (or the term itself) that had ANYTHING to do with racism, black people, white people, etc. Only a complete tool like JRH could interpret it as such.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Andrew says:

      You have no idea what you’re talking about.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Anon says:

      Others have thoroughly addressed the content of the complaint, but I have one nit to pick. As a subject of Her Majesty, I can assure you that Mr. Newman most definitely does not use the Queen’s English, for if he did, he would be referring to Junior Lake as being a centrefielder and not a centerfielder.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • David Horrell says:

      In JRH’s world there’s a racist behind every tree. With his mindset it’s no wonder race relations never seem to improve.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. JMag043 says:

    He generates a lot of his power and bat speed from his wrists like Rickie Weeks.

    He has no plate discipline and barely walks. I’d give him another year or so to see if he can develop it. If his arm is really as strong as reported they should just move him to the mound if they can’t figure it out.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. infieldflyrule says:

    While I don’t think that the opening paragraph is racist, it very stilted and a pretentious way to write “what the kids are saying these days.”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike Newman says:

      It’s not about what kids are saying these days. It’s about what I needed to successfully reach students on their level. While I did not change the way I spoke, students appreciated my willingness to understand the terminology they used with friends. Teachers who refused to adjust fell behind.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • nilbog44 says:

        I can’t believe i wasted my time reading that argument. That was the least racist article i have ever read in my life. There was nothing wrong with it. Get a life JRH. Jeez.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike Newman says:

      Plus, if I lived it, how can it be pretentious?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • infieldflyrule says:

        I don’t want to be a douche about this, but it is just easily correctable bad writing mars this otherwise good article.

        Your experience is not pretentious. It is the description. Instead of saying you forgot much of the slang you picked while teaching, you write of dialect dissipating. Instead of some slang making you laugh, you write that it “brings me to laughter when uttered.”

        The problem just isn’t an issue of overwriting, it is a structural problem. The supposed topic of the first paragraph (your exposure to the phrase “hot mess”) doesn’t mention the actual phrase “hot mess.” You write “this phrase” before you tell the reader the actual phrase. Even when you get around to “hot mess”, it is clear in the second paragraph and it is only in the Urban Diction quote and never in reference to the actual hot mess, Junior Lake.

        Most importantly, why are you spending 20% of an article about a prospect describing your teaching experiences involving slang? It is a good article, but your personal Bildungsroman doesn’t help with the reader understanding a raw shortstop.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • B N says:

        @Infield: I believe the humor was meant to be partly in the contrast of using high language (e.g. parlance that is seldom uttered in these haunts) in contrast with current-day slang (e.g. sh*t folks say). Observe the difference:

        Consistent Language: When I hear about this guy, it always makes me think of the phrase “hot mess.”

        All slang: All my peeps and shawties mos def’nity say this guy is a “hot mess.”*
        (* layman’s approach to using slang, slightly worse translation than my knowledge of Spanish)

        Contrasting Language: Veritably I say unto you that his demeanor upon the olde basepaths reminds me of naught but a “hot mess!”

        Now one can argue that perhaps his attempt at contrasting different styles of speech failed to achieve its intended effect, but the theory is sound and even has a general term (the ‘incongruity theory’ of humor).

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mike Newman says:

        You know what Infieldflyrule, you are absolutely right and thanks for the constructive critique that made it so clear. I’m just going to drop paragraph 1 and move on. The piece sounds better starting with “Per the Urban Dictionary” anyway.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mike Newman says:

        Thanks B N, but infieldflyrule does have a point. I just dumped the opening paragraph and hope the conversation can return to Junior Lake. The interesting thing about all of this is my initial worry was using “hot mess” to describe a Dominican prospect with a typical American name and having people watch the video, think he was African-American and go after me for that.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Paul says:

        Mike, while I completely disagree with some people taking umbrage with that paragraph, when I went back yesterday and re-read the piece, I wondered why it needed to be in there, because the current first paragraph is more of a grabber and more direct anyway. And it still makes the point well.

        Kudos for taking constructive criticism and moving on with a lesson learned.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Rex says:

      How is that pretentious? It’s a figure of speech, tongue and cheek, lighten up.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • jeff says:

      One of the largest problems in society and i speak as a evenkeeled 20 yr old. and our generation finds that racism isn’t an issue until someone tries to take something out of context and turn it into a hot topic to push their agenda or will on others. This article for example is great he’s a professional and he works very hard to provide an interesting article. Leave people alone. When to speak up and when to shut up values have been forgotten.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. subtle says:

    This lines up with what Goldstein says about Lake, but it seems he’s given up on his potential as a hitter and thinks they should just stick him on the hill before it’s too late for him to develop into a hard throwing relief pitcher.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike Newman says:

      Yes, I’ve read Goldstein’s comments actually. My only issue with that sentiment is that Lake is still only 21. A personal favorite of his over the past few years was Twins Joe Benson who spent 6 seasons in the minors before finally breaking through. At the same age, Benson hadn’t reached the double-A level yet and was already in the outfield.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Bob says:

    Hopefully Theo & Co. change this, but in the Hendry years the Cubs simply had far too many players come up through their system with no strike zone judgement. Hendry himself didn’t believe in OBP, and that’s why guys like Patterson, Pie, Vitters, Colvin et al have failed. Even Castro, who is the best prospect Hendry developed, doesn’t walk much.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • I don’t disagree, but let’s not throw Vitters in the fail pile just yet. I’m not expecting him to be a superstar, but I still think he could be a decent major league player some day.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike Newman says:

      You are right. While I do believe plate discipline can be taught, Hendry’s approach kind of counters that doesn’t it? In Hendry’s defense, it’s rare to find an IFA with developed plate discipline at the time of being signed.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. I was really hoping to read something shocking in this article like “Junior Lake will be the breakout prospect of 2012!” But the description here is pretty consistent with the “great tools, sloppy skills” assessment I’ve read elsewhere. I’d obviously love it if he could pull himself together and be either a middle infielder or third baseman of the future.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike Newman says:

      Sorry to disappoint, but that would be me being dishonest. With the sentiment already turning to Lake moving to the mound, take solace in the fact I’m enamored with the tools and believe he still needs to be developed as a bat for at least another couple of years.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. the sandman says:

    Ive been reading about Junior Lake for several years now, ever since he first got to SingleA 2 years ago. Its always astounded me how the Cubs NEVER seem to develop top ML talent for the bigleague club, Castro sort of fell into there lap(and still isnt fully polished) and others like Soto struggle with consistency. Maybe what might help the likes of a Lake or a Rizzo might be that Epstien/Hoyer will bring the Red Sox talent development with them. Red Sox almost always seem to develop at least one capable MLB-ready player from there system a year(Pedroia, Ellsbury, Youkolis, Buchholtz).

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Buford says:

    Last November, when I was at an Arizona Fall League game of the Mesa Solar Sox (Cubs prospects), I sat one row away from a Cubs scout and an Orioles scout.

    FWIW, the Cubs scout referred to Junior Lake as “Rikki Lake” and the Orioles scout responded “another Felix Pie.”

    The Cubs scout also remarked about the Cubs minor league system by saying “We don’t have much.”

    With the CBA monetary restrictions (and potential loss of draft picks) on the domestic and international drafts, I imagine Theo will have to rely more than ever on his scouts just as all teams will be doing. But I wonder if he will be more aggressive in the free agent market to expedite the process even with his lackluster history of signing free agents.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • subtle says:

      Or he could just pile all of their money into the best IFAs possible instead of spreading it around like a net and hoping they catch something like it used to be.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Buford says:

        There is a cap on international draft spending ($2.9M I believe). I don’t know the extent of the penalties for going over. I imagine they are just as onerous as the domestic draft.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike Newman says:

      Honestly Buford, how Theo and his team handle the 2012 draft is going to be fascinating. When scouting the A-ball Red Sox, it was impossible to identify bonuses from the on-the-field product. Bogaerts received 400K if I’m not mistaken. Sean Coyle received 1.3 million. Michael Almanzar received 1.5. It’s no secret the Red Sox made substantially large offers to late round picks who slipped due to college commitments. With MLB trying to curb that, I’m not sure how it’s going to play out.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. His problem is that he’s trying to pull the knob, which causes his back elbow to leak/slide forward of his back hip at contact. See the swings of Matt Pagnozzi and Dallas McPherson, among many others with this problem. That lengthens his swing and causes him to make contact out in front. Combine this with a problem with lunging, and the result is a mess.

    He’s got the athleticism, but needs quality instruction, which he’s clearly not getting.

    P.S. Explosive wrists is a deceptive (and inaccurate) term. What the wrists do is a function of what the rest of the body does.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Cidron says:

      quality instruction will require a willingness to learn. I am not an expert in him, by any means. But, he has been in the minors for how long? With all that talent and tools, he should have flown thru the minors, right? Something is keeping him back. Is it his inability, or reluctance to adjust and learn?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mike Newman says:

        Excellent point Cidron. When I sat down to write this, I thought to myself, “I wish I had a contact familiar with Lake and his baseball IQ/work ethic”.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • He looks like he’s doing what he’s being taught. The problem is that what he’s been taught is wrong. Jeter’s the only guy in the bigs who’s been able to get away with that swing and the flaw it produces (the back elbow leaking forward of the hip). This is also a hard flaw to fix, so I don’t have high hopes for him.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike Newman says:

      I appreciate the breakdown Chris. I use the term explosive wrists to help explain the fact he has excellent wrist snap and plenty of untapped power should he work out the many issues with his swing. For me, if you don’t fix the timing mechanism, what’s the point of fixing the actual swing? If Lake is only timing 2-3 out of every 10 pitches properly, the components of his swing really don’t matter as he’s essentially the walking dead at the plate. Time 8-9 out of 10 pitches properly and some of the leakage and hitting the ball out front you describe so well would work itself out.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • I would argue that his timing is off because his swing is long; he just can’t catch up to a good pitch. He’s got to rebuild things from the ground up. Dallas McPherson has the same problem.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. JeffV says:

    Would love to see Lake develop into a 3B, but I think realistically he could not handle it. More than likely we will see him tried at CF where we are stacked at and at RF/LF where there is greater pressure to either hit 30HR or increase his OBP.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. doug K says:

    The comment about the leaking elbow is exactly consistent what the flaw I saw in the AFL on this guy. But everything else about his swing is nice he has great bat speed. Pitch recognition could improve though. And his range at SS is just insanely good too but the throw release point is very erratic.

    I dont think he should move off SS until someone tries and fails to fix the leaking elbow. Because even if he struggles with pitch recognition his bat could generate 270/310/450 type numbers and he could be a very plus range fielder with that which is a pretty valuable SS.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. BABIP says:

    He swings really hard. Hope he can get straightened out. And moved to the OF.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>