Junior Lake’s future has been an open-ended question, all the way back to when another administration had him switching off shortstop with Starlin Castro in rookie ball in 2008.
The Cubs aren’t quite sure what they have in the converted infielder who’s wearing Sammy Sosa’s old number and dressing at Alfonso Soriano’s old locker. But they want to get a better idea across the next seven weeks.
Manager Dale Sveum shifted Lake – who profiles like a potential corner outfielder or super-utility guy – back to center for Monday’s 2-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Theo Epstein’s front office projects Albert Almora will be roaming center at a renovated Wrigley Field and the 2012 first-round pick could be coming fast.
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“We don’t want to waste time developing something (when) in two years Almora might be here playing center field,” Sveum said. “That’s up to the organization. We have to get together and talk. There’s no reason to talk about it now. But I want to see (Lake) enough in center field before the season’s over.”
Almora is only 19 years old but his experience with Team USA – and history of facing elite competition growing up in South Florida – makes the Cubs think he could rise quickly through the system.
Almora went on the disabled list with a groin injury last week, and his season was delayed when he broke his hamate bone in spring training. But he’s hitting .329 with an .842 OPS through 61 games at Class-A Kane County and could play in the Arizona Fall League.
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Lake went 1-for-4 on Monday night, giving him 33 hits through his first 25 career games, the third-most for a Cub since 1921 (trailing only Mandy Brooks and Andy Pafko). Shin-Soo Choo threw out Lake when he tried to go first-to-third on Anthony Rizzo’s single up the middle in the sixth inning. The Cubs could still use that kind of spark.
“We needed a guy at third with less than two outs,” Sveum said. “Choo threw the most perfect throw you could throw. You can’t (place) a ball any better than that. If it’s offline just a little left or a little right, he’s safe. I got no problem with that aggressiveness.”