MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs are going to have to wait awhile to get another read on Junior Lake, one of their more intriguing/hard-to-figure prospects.
An MRI revealed a stress fracture on Lake’s top rib, just below his right shoulder, an injury that’s expected to take four-to-six weeks to rehab, wiping out the rest of his Cactus League audition.
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Lake wasn’t going to be a factor on Opening Day. He hasn’t played a game at Triple-A Iowa yet and this front office would ideally like to see a player get around 500 at-bats at that level.
But Lake’s raw athleticism – and the huge hole at third base – made you wonder if he could force the issue at some point this season. Wednesday’s announcement left an incomplete picture of the 6-foot-3-inch, 215-pound specimen who looks more like an NBA wing player than a typical infielder.
“He’s a very premeditated swinger,” manager Dale Sveum said at HoHoKam Stadium. “He’s just not getting good pitches to hit. He’s swinging at arm action a lot (for) a guy that has a lot of bat speed and doesn’t really have to be a premeditated swinger. He’s still in that mode, so he’s still got to develop to get out of that (habit).”
Lake said he felt something on a swing during last week’s rain-shortened game against the Cincinnati Reds in Goodyear. This spring, he hit .304 with a double, a triple, a home run and three RBI in 23 Cactus League at-bats. He also committed two errors, which was part of the overall impression that he needs to sharpen his instincts and focus.
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Sveum also mentioned again how Lake has all the tools. Last season, Lake hit .279 with 10 homers, 21 stolen bases and 50 RBI in 103 games at Double-A Tennessee. This is a player still waiting for the breakthrough Starlin Castro experienced years ago.
As a teenager in the Dominican Republic, Lake signed for $110,000, or more than twice the amount the Cubs gave their future All-Star shortstop. Lake will turn 23 on March 27, three days after Castro celebrates the same birthday, and they were once roommates in Arizona for rookie ball.
Baseball America rated Lake as having the organization’s best infield arm, and he’s athletic enough that the Cubs had been giving him looks in the outfield and perhaps grooming him for a super-utility role.
“It’s a nice player to have,” Sveum said, “but there’s still development there.”