A few days ago, I predicted what could very well could be the 25 man roster when the Chicago Cubs broke camp. While most of the roster positions may in fact be locked in, there likely are also a few roster spots that could be up for grabs. One of those spots is likely be an outfielder.
We know that Nate Schierholtz is guaranteed a starting spot if he is not injured or traded by the time the season starts. Ryan Sweeney is also likely a starting candidate, as the Cubs felt he was important enough to bring back for the 2014 season. With the Cubs trading for Justin Ruggiano, you know he is just about as likely to make the team as Sweeney and Schierholtz is. The one player who actually may not be a lock to make the team as a starting outfielder, or at all would be Junior Lake. His competition is a former top prospect of the Cubs, Brett Jackson.
While Lake may be the favorite to leave camp with the job, he should not be seen as an absolute lock. Lake Played in a good portion of games with the Cubs (64) and put up impressive statistics in his 236 at bats. While hitting .284, Lake hit out six home runs and drove in 16 RBI. Fans fell in love with the rookie, and could not wait to get a glimpse of the "Lake Show". He was something to get excited about every time he was in the game, and gave fans a reason to stand up and cheer.
Some fans even started comparing him to Yasiel Puig because of his hot start. While that comparison was very very premature and fell short of being even close to true. Lake did something few players on the roster had been able to do all season, give the fans some electricity and energy. I am sure there are plenty of fans who are already inking his name into the starting lineup for 2014, whether in center field or left field, but they may be a little ahead of schedule as he has not officially won anything.
Even though the job is likely his to lose, and Jackson will have to do a lot to win the gig, that is not out of the realm of possibilities. Jackson has been highly touted in the organization for a few years now, before having a very dismal 2013. I am sure the Cubs would love to see Jackson step up big time and blow out the competition forcing Rick Renteria and the rest of the Cubs brass to make a very tough decision.
Part of what made 2013 such a dismal year for the former top prospect was a year filled with injuries and a year where he tried to change his game. Much like with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, the former regime tried making adjustments to Jackson's swing and technique,. Like Castro and Rizzo, Jackson was unable to adjust to what they wanted him to be. As a result, his game suffered just as Castro's and Rizzo's did. The difference was Castro and Rizzo were allowed to struggle at the Major League level while Jackson wasted away in Double A where his season ended.
Even though Jackson struggled last year, he is filled with confidence coming into camp, and he is ready to fight for the starting job. He is taking the struggles of last year and using them as motivation to succeed this coming season. This off season he took as a learning experience, remembering that the game was supposed to be fun.
If anyone in camp is going to steal the starting job from Lake, that person will be Jackson. Jorge Soler and Albert Almora are not ready for the Majors, and Kris Bryant likely will not break camp with the big league team either; even though the corner outfield is likely his Major League future.
If Jackson does win the job, Lake could still make the team, in fact he could still make the starting lineup forcing Sweeney to the bench. That would lead to another interesting decision at the end of camp. But I could see an outfield from left to right of Lake, Jackson and Schierholtz, just as easily as I can see Lake, Sweeney and Schierholtz.
Does Jackson have a realistic shot at making the Major League roster? Of course, players have been known to flip the switch out of nowhere going from dud to stud. Who is to say that is out of the realm of possibilities for Jackson? The odds may be against him, but you cannot count him out.