DENVER – Junior Lake will need that ‘wow factor’ to convince the Cubs he belongs here and shouldn’t be sent back to Triple-A Iowa.
Lake doesn’t have to be another Yasiel Puig or Bryce Harper. But the game is trending young, and maybe the Cubs could get a bounce the way the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals did. That could help get rid of that trade deadline hangover.
It may be a long shot now, but manager Dale Sveum sounds open to the possibility of making this an extended audition for the 23-year-old Lake.
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“Those are the kind of players you talk about, the athletes, and hopefully they hit,” Sveum said. “The guys who can score from first base, steal bases, be energetic all the time and bring life to the team sometimes. You see it in other places, and that’s the kind of guy we’re hoping we get out of him, because he’s got that kind of body and speed and power and athleticism.”
Lake (1-for-3) showed his range in Saturday’s 9-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. He drew a walk in the first inning and got thrown out trying to steal second, sliding headfirst and knocking off his helmet. He caught a ball on the run in the fourth before making an error in the fifth, bobbling it in shallow center and allowing Michael Cuddyer to run to second.
What does Lake need to show to force the issue?
David DeJesus (shoulder) is accelerating his rehab program and expected to return in about a week. Lake – who went 3-for-4 with a stolen base in his big-league debut on Friday night – will face three left-handers in the next series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
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“The telltale sign will be how he handles the major-league right-handed pitchers, the sliders and all that,” Sveum said. “There’s got to be a point sometimes where if a guy’s doing well, that’s just the way it is. You keep him and you find somewhere to play him.”
That could be shortstop, if Starlin Castro needs a day off, or left field, if Alfonso Soriano needs to rest his legs. Lake had never really played center before, and he handled Coors Field. He could also shift to right. He has experience playing second and third base.
As Sveum said: “There’s all kinds of options there – because he’s such a good athlete – to get his ability in the lineup.”
This 6-foot-3, 215-pound specimen could be the super-utility guy on the next contending Cubs team. Compared to spring training, Lake appeared to be less withdrawn in the clubhouse. He looked the part, becoming more comfortable with the media and doing parts of his interviews in English.
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“The reports we’ve had on him through the minor leagues (say) he’s grown up,” Sveum said. “That’s why we develop players, to where they get all those at-bats. They’ve seen things. They know it’s getting closer, so their time clock isn’t in their back pocket. It’s on their wrist. They know it’s coming: ‘I got to step it up and grow up.’ Not that he’s ever had any issues that way, but he’s a young kid.”
Lake is still raw, but he’s also had more than 2,200 at-bats in the minors. He’s watched his friend Castro rocket through the system and become an All-Star shortstop. Sveum – who will be looking for ways to get Lake into the lineup – was amused to hear that he joked he retired from that position.
“Oh, he’s retired from shortstop?” Sveum said. “We’d have to bring him out from retirement."