A Tale of Two Shortstops

A Tale of Two Shortstops

A line in Sunday's box score read:

Lake, PH  1 AB, 0 R,1 H, 1 RBI

Junior Lake.jpg

Junior Lake

Lake is Junior Lake, a SS/3b prospect in the Cubs system.  There was a time where he was every bit as highly regarded as current 21 year old phenom Starlin Castro.  Just three years ago, these two shortstops were spoken in the same breath. Today, one is thriving in the majors while the other is still in Class A ball. I don't need to tell you which is which.  It goes to show how much of an inexact science scouting can be.

Back in 2007, not many could have predicted how things have turned out.  Let's look at the tale of the tape...

Starlin Castro
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 175 lbs.
Place of Birth: Dominican Republic
Date of Birth: March 24, 1990
Cubs pro debut: DSL 2007 (Dominican Summer League)
Signed by: Jose Serra, scout

Junior Lake
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 200 lbs.
Place of Birth Dominican Republic
Date of Birth: March 27, 1990
Cubs pro debut: DSL 2007
Signed by: Jose Serra, scout

Looks pretty even with a slight edge to Lake so far based on size. Let's look at year one:

2007 DSL (Dominican Summer League)
Starlin Castro .299/.371/.371
Junior Lake .274/.341/.404

At
this point, we can give the slight edge to Lake in power, while Castro
showed better on-base skills. Overall, Castro had an OPS of .742. Lake's
OPS was .745 -- nearly identical.

2008 Arizona Rookie League
Castro .311/.364/.464
Lake .286/.335/.414

Here
we see Castro start to separate himself a little. But Baseball America
still sees a lot of potential in Lake. They ranked Starlin Castro as the
Cubs #7 prospect after that season, while Lake isn't far behind at #13.
Castro is thought to be the better all-around player while Lake has the
better power potential.

The next season, the Cubs surprisingly
promoted Castro from the AZL all the way to full season High Class A
Daytona -- a huge leap. But again, Lake isn't far behind. He also skips
Short Season A ball and is promoted to full season Class A Peoria.

Now comes the fork in the road...While the Cubs expected Castro to tread water and would've been happy if he hit .260, he

starlin_castro.jpg

Starlin Castro

instead made a great leap forward. He broke out at Daytona, made the
All-Star team, got promoted up to AA as a 19 year old and actually
improved his numbers at Tennessee, going from a .731 OPS to a .743 OPS.
Not a huge jump, but this is a 19 year old kid who jumped into a league
where he was playing with 22-23 year olds. The fact that he improved at
all was impressive. After another impressive stint in the Arizona Fall
League, he became the Cubs #1 prospect and is now, of course, about to
start his second season as the Cubs starting SS.

Lake, meanwhile,
struggled at Peoria. His OPS was just .642. He was plagued by poor
plate discipline, walking only 18 times and striking out a whopping 138
times. For some reason, the Cubs felt they needed to promote him again.
Those reasons were probably Hak Ju Lee and Logan Watkins, highly rated
shortstops themselves, who were more than ready for full-season ball. In
2009,  instead of repeating the league, Lake was bumped to High Class A
Daytona where he started poorly.  Midway through May, he was struggling
mightily with an OPS of .448, due largely to a .189 batting average.
The power, once considered a strength, had all but evaporated. Only 2 of
his 17 hits had gone for extra bases. Both extra base hits were
doubles.  It seemed his days as a prospect were all but over.

But
then Lake began to turn things around.  With a huge second half last
season, he has put himself back on the prospect map.   Despite his
horrendous start, Lake ended the season hitting a more respectable .264
with 9 home runs.   His  final slash line was .264/.333/.398 and an OPS
of .731.  Not great by any means, but his strong finish has the Cubs
hoping that Lake may yet fulfill his once immense potential.

Lake's
pinch hit RBI Sunday may end up being his only at-bat this spring
before he heads back to the minor league complex for the rest of
training camp, but it was enough to remind us how a prospect's fortunes
can quickly change for better and for worse.  Right now, Castro is
thriving as the Cubs SS of the foreseeable future, while Lake is
struggling to retain his status as a legitimate infield prospect. 2011
will likely be a make or break year for him.

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