Yesterday, Keith Law caused a bit of a stir on Twitter for his comments on the Waddle and Silvy Show regarding Junior Lake. In essence he said that, Lake “is not a good prospect”. He also said that he had bad instincts, can’t hit a breaking ball, and is likely to turn into Steve Lake, a backup catcher known for a strong arm and weak bat.
Of course some of this is just exaggeration for effect. Law likes to stir the pot. So some of that should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.
To be clear, I’m not one of these guys who thinks Junior Lake is the second coming of Willie Mays or even Yasiel Puig for that matter. I’m not even sure he’s a big league regular yet.
I’m also not yet sure that he’s not.
Some have been predicting the demise of Junior Lake for years, a few even from the time he signed and most of them pretty much since he’s been in A ball. A couple (including Law) predicted he’d be converted into a pitcher, an idea that seems rather silly now, and it’s one that was never actually considered by the Cubs.
Despite predictions that his approach would not work at the upper levels, Lake has continued to succeed against higher levels of competition, as we noted in this previous article on Lake. He has now hit .294/.341/.459 since 2012, which includes a rise through AA, AAA, and now MLB. He has also been an above average offensive player as measured by advanced metrics such as wOBA and RC+. He’s at the point now where the only level he can fail at now is the MLB level. In that respect, he has already beaten the odds that every prospect faces simply by making it to the big leagues.
But don’t expect anyone to be satisfied yet.
While opinion remains split on Lake, nobody seems to question that Lake has tools. It’s more about whether he can develop the approach and baseball-specific skill to utilize them consistently. I think that’s a legitimate question. Scouts should be skeptical. But to flat out decide he won’t ever do that seems a bit cocksure. And nothing is ever that certain when it comes to prospects, one way or the other — especially when they have the raw talent and eye-popping athleticism that Lake does.
A more nuanced perspective comes from Cubs PBO Theo Epstein via this article from Patrick Mooney,
“He’s got a chance to be a really exciting player,” team president Theo Epstein said. “But there’s still a lot of development left. He’s got that incredible physical ability, amazing tools, where when he is locked in, and when he is seeing the ball well, he can do some things on the baseball field that make you drop your jaw.”
One top evaluator from another organization I spoke with likes what he sees in Lake as well, saying the Cubs need players with high upside. And even if he doesn’t reach that, he noted that Lake can do so many things on the baseball field that have value to a team even if he doesn’t hit as well as we all hope, offering the potential for speed, power, and versatility off the bench.
Bradley Woodrum of Fangraphs also takes a more balanced approach in his analysis of Lake.
What we can take from all of this is that it’s far too early to decide Junior Lake’s fate you shouldn’t completely rule out the possibility that players with athleticism and tools won’t be able to translate them to productive baseball skills. Junior Lake may still be raw, but he’s a far better player than he was just a few years ago, when Lake hit .248/.277/.365 at Class A Peoria with atrocious defense in 2009 — and then had a disastrous start to the 2010 season at Daytona (.187 with 0 HRs at the all-star break).
Since that first half, Lake has steadily improved as an offensive player as noted by his .800 OPS since 2012 in nearly 600 PAs. Even his approach isn’t quite as wild as it once was. He’s improved a bit on defense, though that part of his progress hasn’t been quite so dramatic. So we know he’s capable of developing better baseball skills. We know he can improve and adjust because he’s already done it at the highest levels short of the majors.
Just how much he can continue to do that remains to be seen, but with Alfonso Soriano in New York Lake will certainly get his chance. For now, though, I’m going to enjoy the Junior Lake show and hope that he continues to prove his doubters wrong.