PHOENIX – After all the trade talk about the New York Yankees, Alfonso Soriano smiled when he heard Junior Lake’s name.
Forget the Yasiel Puig comparisons. Soriano sees a younger version of himself. And if Lake winds up taking Soriano’s job as the Cubs go with their youth movement, well, good for him.
“I see Junior like me in 2006, (as) an infielder moved to the outfield (for the first time),” Soriano said Wednesday. “It’s kind of the same. I hope that he can have the same career – or better – because he’s young and he’s athletic and good people, too.”
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The same year you became a 40/40 guy with the Washington Nationals?
“He’s got the talent,” Soriano said. “He’s got the power and the speed, so he can do that.”
Lake is going to cool off eventually, but he put on another show in a 7-6 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Across 12 innings, he went 2-for-5 with two doubles, a sacrifice bunt, an RBI and a run scored. That dropped his average to .519. His 14 hits in his first six career games are the most by a Cub since 1916.
“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.”
There’s the 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame, rocket arm and age-23 upside. Epstein hoped to get a longer look at Lake in spring training, before a fractured rib cut short the audition.
During winter ball, Lake had excelled playing multiple positions, hitting .312 back home in the Dominican Republic. He didn’t make it to Triple-A Iowa until June, putting up an .803 OPS in 40 games, seeing the right-handed breaking ball better, chasing fewer pitches out of the strike zone and improving his mental side of the game.
Epstein said Lake’s not done at third base, but the Cubs don’t want to overload the rookie now, and they project he can become a full-time outfielder in the big leagues.
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“He’s riding such a wave right now, why give him something extra to think about?” Epstein said. “Even though it’s a newer position to him, he’s almost more instinctive in the outfield.
“Let’s not get in the way of a good thing right now. He’s learning a lot about himself as a hitter, so let’s just let him keep doing it.”
The Cubs (45-54) are witnessing a changing of the guard in their clubhouse. With Soriano likely heading to New York, Lake will be given the chance to try to maximize that 40/40 potential.
“He’s playing with a ton of confidence, like he really belongs here,” Epstein said. “I think this is the league he feels he’s ready for and he’s going out and showing it.”