Results tagged ‘ Junior Lake ’
How do you evaluate a 96-loss season? It depends on how you look at it.
Are you evaluating just the major league team or the organization as a whole? Your answers would likely be very different.
On the surface, things don’t look too good. For the second straight year, the Cubs languished in the basement of a stacked NL Central that sent three teams to the 2013 postseason. The offense consistently struggled to put runs on the board, the bullpen faltered early in the season, several key players failed to develop as expected, and manager Dale Sveum was released after two seasons at the helm. To hear General Manager Jed Hoyer tell it, that’s simply not going to cut it.
“One of the things about this job is that your report card is in the paper every morning,” Hoyer said. “Obviously, that report card tells us we’re not good enough. We’re not talented enough at the major league level, and we have to improve that.”
Despite the struggles in Chicago—and both President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and Hoyer are quick to admit they’re disappointed by the win-loss total—the front office has never wavered from its initial blueprint for building a consistent winner.
When Epstein and Hoyer took over in October 2011, there was a severe talent deficit in the minor league system, and the major league team was saddled with expensive, aging players. The goal was to stockpile as much young talent as possible as quickly as possible and create payroll flexibility to ensure that the next time the team is competitive, it has a chance to remain competitive for years to come.
On that front, things don’t look bad at all. In 2009, Baseball America ranked the Cubs 27th in its annual organizational talent rankings. By the start of 2013, they had moved up to 12th. Thanks to shrewd trades, some aggressive international signings and a strong 2013 draft, headlined by overall No. 2 pick Kris Bryant, most experts agree the Cubs system is firmly in the top five heading into 2014. And 11 of the organization’s top 20 prospects, according to MLB.com, were acquired since the new front office took over in 2011. That’s a lot of progress in a few short years.
This month, we sat down with the Cubs’ GM for a frank conversation about the state of the organization. There is great reason for optimism, but the wave of young standouts developing in the farm system has yet to crest at Wrigley Field. Until that top-notch talent arrives, it’s imperative the Cubs find a way to improve their bullpen and generate more quality at-bats.
“The amount of talent and the athleticism we have [in the system] is a long, long way from where it was when we first got here, and we’re excited about that,” Hoyer said. “But all those things don’t hide the fact that the goal is to get better at the major league level, and we need to improve on what we’ve done in 2012 and 2013.”
We also talked to one of the key pieces Hoyer acquired last offseason that fits this new organizational philosophy—outfielder Nate Schierholtz. The 29-year-old veteran finally got a chance to play regularly in 2013, and he had a breakout season, with career highs in plate appearances, home runs and RBI. Everybody, from the front office to his teammates, says the same thing about Schierholtz: He’s a professional ballplayer who fights for every at-bat and brings his best effort every day.
Finally, despite the win-loss total, there were plenty of positive developments at the major league level. The Cubs strengthened their pitching depth behind the emergence of lefty Travis Wood, ace Jeff Samardzija continued to miss bats with the best of them, Junior Lake made a surprisingly successful major league debut, and the left side of the infield was as strong defensively as any in baseball. We examine several impressive stats from the 2013 campaign that should bode well for the organization’s near future.
If you want to get to know the future of the organization now, follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline. All winter long, we’ll be following the Cubs’ top prospects in the fall and winter leagues. And pick up the November issue of Vine Line today.
The Arizona Fall League held its midseason Fall Stars game on Saturday, and it featured the Cubs’ big three prospects. All three got in the game for the East, but the West cruised to a 9-2 win. Here are some highlights from the weekend’s fall/winter league action.
Arizona Fall League –
Albert Almora, RF – Almora entered the game in the top of the sixth as a defensive replacement, and went 0-for-2 at the plate.
Kris Bryant, 3B – Bryant led off the top of the eighth with a soft liner to center. Two batters later, Devon Travis (Tigers) tripled, scoring the Cubs 2013 first-round pick. Bryant finished 1-for-4 and committed two errors in the field.
Jorge Soler, RF – Batting seventh for the AFL East, Soler reached on a walk in his first at-bat. In his other at-bat, he led off the fifth with a sharp single to the right side of the infield.
On Friday, the Solar Sox were on the losing end of a 5-4 decision with Peoria. Almora and Wes Darvill both got in the game for Mesa.
Albert Almora, DH – Almora led off for the Sox and got things going in the bottom of the first with a double to right, but he was left stranded at second. He drew a walk in his next at-bat. With Mesa trailing by a run entering the ninth, Almora smacked a one-out triple to center, but Mesa couldn’t drive him in to tie the game. THe Cubs prospect finished 2-for-4 with a walk.
Wes Darvill, 3B – Darvill reached on a two-out walk in the fifth. In the seventh, he reached on an error and scored from second on a Dixon Machado single (Tigers). Darvill finished 1-for-3.
Mesa hosts Salt River Monday, with first pitch scheduled for 7:35 CST. Matt Purke (Nationals) will take the mound for the Sox, while Grayson Garvin (Rays) will throw for the Rafters.
Caribbean League –
Jeffry Antigua, LHP – Antigua was credited with a hold, striking out his only batter for the Toros as they came away victorious on Saturday.
Junior Lake, LF – Lake went 1-for-4 with the game-winning RBI for Oriente on Sunday. He also added a pair of hits in a loss on Saturday.
Marcos Mateo, RHP – Mateo blew a save on Sunday, but recorded the win, pitching one inning and giving up an earned run on two hits and a walk for the Estrellas de Oriente. He racked up his third save of the Dominican league season with a one-strikeout, hitless ninth inning on Friday.
Marcus Hatley, RHP – Hatley pitched a scoreless ninth inning for Culican in a 7-2 win on Friday.
Edwin Maysonet, SS – Maysonet had a single and a walk in a 1-0 win for Santurce Saturday.
Jonathan Mota, 3B – Mota recorded a single and scored the Leones’ only run in a 4-1 loss Saturday. He singled, walked and drove in a run in a win on Friday.
Rubi Silva, LF – Silva went 2-for-4 on Friday with a walk, an RBI and two runs scored for Ponce.
Frank Del Valle, LHP – Starting for Margarita on Saturday, Del Valle gave up one run on four hits and three walks, striking out two over three innings. The Bravos won 7-5.
Hector Rondon, RHP – Rondon surrendered two hits but struck out one in a scoreless eighth inning for Caracas Sunday.
Outfielder Junior Lake hit his first career home run Monday night. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Since his July 19 call-up, outfielder Junior Lake has fit right into the Cubs’ offense. Though it’s an extremely small sample size, the 23-year-old has a .529/.556/.765 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line in 18 plate appearances. He picked up his first career home run Monday night in a 4-2 win over Arizona.
After spending the majority of his minor league career at either shortstop or third base, Lake has been in center field for all four of his major league games—his first four starts at the position since signing with the organization in 2007.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs recalled infielder/outfielder Junior Lake from Triple-A Iowa Friday afternoon. He is slated to play center field and bat sixth in the Cubs second half opener in Colorado.
In 40 games at Iowa this season, the 23-year-old batted .295/.341/.462 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 10 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 18 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Originally signed as a nondrafted free agent in February 2007, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder reached Double-A for the first time in 2011, after earning Florida State League midseason All-Star honors with Single-A Daytona. Lake was also named to the 2011 Arizona Fall League Top Prospects team. He spent all of last year in Tennessee, where he hit .279 with 10 homers, 26 doubles, 21 stolen bases and 50 RBI.
To make room for Lake, the Cubs placed outfielder Brian Bogusevic on the 15-day DL with a left hamstring strain.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
It had to happen sometime, but Cubs fans in Arizona will definitely miss seeing Javier Baez and Jorge Soler play on a regular basis. The Chicago Cubs have assigned seven players—including many of the organization’s top prospects—to minor league camp, reducing their spring roster from 53 to 46 players.
Infielders Junior Lake and Josh Vitters have been optioned to Triple-A Iowa, while infielder Christian Villanueva has been optioned to Double-A Tennessee. Outfielder Jorge Soler has been optioned to Single-A Daytona.
Three non-roster invitees have been assigned to minor league camp: right-handed pitcher Barret Loux, infielder Javier Baez and catcher Rafael Lopez.
“I’ll be honest, [at Spring Training] I look forward to the sixth through ninth innings more than I look forward to the first five innings,” said Cubs GM Jed Hoyer. “We’ll watch the veteran guys all year. … Getting a chance to see the young players up close is something we cherish because we can’t do that all season.”
Chicago’s spring roster now consists of 24 pitchers (eight non-roster invitees), four catchers (one non-roster invitee), nine infielders (four non-roster invitees) and nine outfielders (three non-roster invitees).
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs agreed to terms with all 21 pre-arbitration eligible players currently on the organization’s 40-man roster Monday. Terms were not disclosed.
Right-handed pitchers Michael Bowden, Alberto Cabrera, Rafael Dolis, Trey McNutt, Hector Rondon, Arodys Vizcaino and Robert Whitenack; and lefties Brooks Raley, Chris Rusin and Travis Wood were all signed to new deals.
Catchers Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger; infielders Darwin Barney, Junior Lake, Anthony Rizzo, Christian Villanueva, Josh Vitters and Logan Watkins; and outfielders Brett Jackson, Dave Sappelt and Matt Szczur also earned updated contracts.
(Photo by Rodger Wood)
After a slow start, Junior Lake really took off in 2012. He spent a full season at Double-A Tennessee, where he hit .279/.341/.432 (AVG/OBP/SLG) and focused on developing patience at the plate. As the year went on, he became a big part of the Smokies offense, ripping 10 home runs, driving in 50 and stealing 21 bases.
Though General Manager Jed Hoyer said in a December conference call that he doesn’t put a ton of stock into Caribbean Winter League stats, it’s hard to ignore Lake’s efforts in the Dominican. The versatile defender played all over the diamond, including shortstop, third base and the outfield. His .312/.382/.474 line was in the top five in the league in each category, and he hit five home runs and stole 11 bases during the regular season.
Lake will be playing third and batting seventh for the blue team in the Cubs’ first intrasquad matchup on Thursday afternoon in Mesa, Ariz. He’ll be playing alongside star prospects like Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, and Brett Jackson and will be opposite the potential Opening Day lineup.
Though the Cubs aren’t entirely sure where they want to place Lake defensively, the 22-year-old showed he can hit against Double-A pitching last season and was added to the team’s 40-man roster.
Lake is one of more than 60 players covered in Vine Line’s annual Minor League Prospectus. The issue is on newsstands now, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. It’s an exhaustive rundown, perfect for Spring Training and beyond.
IF | Junior Lake
Born: 3.27/90 in San Pedro, Dominican Republic
Acquired: 2008 NDFA
Tools: Power, Arm, Speed
2012 STATS (Double-A): .279/.341/.432 in 103 games
Lake’s a prospect you can’t miss, both because of his height (taller than the listed 6-foot-2) and his tools. He has a cannon arm, big, raw power, and good speed despite his large frame. Lake had a solid 2012, though he still hasn’t had the explosive, breakout year many expect. This season, he came to the ballpark with a plan every day, and his walk rate doubled (to 7.8 percent) under the new development team’s expectations. He’ll start at Triple-A and continue to work on defensive versatility, probably at third base and in the outfield as he did in the Dominican Winter League. Not yet 23, Lake has the majors within reach if he shows game utility.
Other players featured in this section: infielders Josh Vitters and Logan Watkins; outfielders Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur; and pitchers Alberto Cabrera, Trey McNutt, Brooks Raley, Nick Struck, Robert Whitenack and Tony Zych.
Plus, tidbits on OF Jae-Hoon Ha, LHP Chris Rusin, LHP Frank Del Valle, LHP Zach Rosscup, RHP Matt Loosen, IF Justin Bour, RHP Marcus Hatley, LHP Austin Kirk and RHP Eric Jokisch.
A steady rain drowned out most of the final day of Cubs baseball at Fitch Park on Wednesday, but there was still a little news.
The Cubs announced the starters for the opening games of their Cactus League slate, which kicks off this weekend. Travis Wood will get the Saturday start against the Los Angeles Angels in Tempe, and Jeff Samardzija will pitch the Sunday home opener against the San Francisco Giants. Carlos Villanueva will pitch Game 3 on Monday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Edwin Jackson will start on Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies.
Matt Garza’s debut has been pushed back due to a mild lat strain on his left side. It was announced Tuesday that he’ll likely be out about a week before resuming baseball activities.
Manager Dale Sveum also held his daily presser, despite the lack of on-field action. Here are Sveum’s best quotes from the day:
Then vs. Now
“We have a lot of the same guys in camp [from a year ago] that ended getting some time in the big leagues. But like I said yesterday, there’s just a whole different look in their eyes. Having that experience and going through some adversity with some of the young guys, it’s a whole lot different. There’s just so much more talent in camp this year than there was last year—and also depth. Guys that are very capable of pitching in the big leagues or guys that are on our radar getting really close to the big leagues. … There’s just more playable talent in camp this year.”
“Spring Training is what it is in any park. Here it’s a little bit unique because you have to move [from Fitch to HoHoKam]. Probably my first memory here is when I had to come over here 25 years ago and rehab my leg clear across from Peoria [in extended Spring Training]. We shared it with the Cubs at that time.”
Prospect Watch (Javy Baez, Jorge Soler, Junior Lake, etc.)
“We have so many split-squad games they’re going to get quite a few games in before being sent down. There are a lot of at-bats out there.”
“I’m very anxious [to see them]. Those are the guys you talk about that are on your radar in the minor league systems that have all those God-given tools—the speed, the arm, the power, hopefully the hitting ability, meaning OPS and those things. A lot of that stuff comes a little bit later in careers. But it’s pretty special talent and bat speed those guys have. You want to see it in person and at game speed.”
“We do have some personalities that are able to fill those [leadership] roles. I think [Anthony] Rizzo is one of those guys. I think [Darwin] Barney is ready to be that guy. Obviously Rizzo’s rookie year and Barney winning a Gold Glove—those kinds of things give you added ability to be a leader in the clubhouse because people look up to people like that. We have [Alfonso] Soriano, and [Jeff] Samardzija is going to take on that role, as well as [Matt] Garza and Edwin Jackson. So we have plenty of personalities that can do that.”
Building for the Future
“Going into this last year, you knew the plan we had, and we weren’t going to take any shortcuts to vary from it. Within a year, the whole organization has changed so dramatically for the good. You just get better players in the organization, and you create an atmosphere where people want to play here, and they want to come to this ballpark and work. That’s all you can do. That’s the transformation we’re trying to do all the time here. And it’s changed a ton in a year.”
Cubs outfielder Dave Sappelt was one of the top performers in the Venezuelan league this winter (Photo by Stephen Green).
Winter league regional play finally came to a conclusion last night as Magallanes fended off Luis Valbuena and his Lara squad to win the Venezuelan title and claim the final spot in the Caribbean Series. The offseason leagues were an opportunity for players to rack up a few more innings of experience while still competing at a high level. Many of the Cubs took advantage of the opportunity, and some excelled in their respective leagues. Below is a list of Cubs representatives who fared well this winter.
Michael Bowden: Pitching for the Aguilas Cibaenas, Bowden posted a 2.76 ERA in 32.2 innings of work. He earned a 3-2 record and struck out 35 batters.
Alberto Cabrera: Playing for the Toros del Este, the Dominican native was used more frequently in the postseason. In 19.2 innings and four starts, Cabrera went 1-1 with a 0.92 ERA, fanning 15 batters and walking just six. He surrendered two earned runs in the playoffs.
Junior Lake: Representing the Estrellas de Oriente, Lake tore apart opposing pitchers, finishing with a line of .312/.382/.474 (AVG/OBP/SLG). The infielder was one of the Cubs’ top performers, hitting five homers, driving in 24 and stealing 11 bases in 154 at-bats.
Nelson Perez: A teammate of Lake’s in the Dominican, Perez was often utilized as a bat off the bench. In 84 at-bats, he compiled a .443 on-base percentage, drawing 29 walks and driving in 21. The Estrellas made the playoffs but were eliminated in the round robin portion.
Esmailin Caridad: The lone Cubs representative who will be participating in the Caribbean Series, Caridad was a solid bullpen arm this winter. In 42.0 innings during the regular season, the righty had a 2.57 ERA, struck out 49 and walked 12.
Jay Jackson: Jackson put up consistent numbers for the Venados de Mazatlan, posting a 3.86 ERA in 49.0 innings of work. The righty went 3-2 and struck out 34 batters over 10 starts.
Yoanner Negrin: In 12 starts for the Leones del Caracas, Negrin was tough to beat. Not a huge strikeout guy (38 K in 58.2 innings), the righty still managed a 2.61 ERA and a 4-1 record.
Dave Sappelt: Sappelt was another elite player this winter. In 116 at-bats, the outfielder put up a .336/.378/.526 line, belting five home runs and five doubles. He also stole five bases and drove in 15.
Luis Valbuena: One of the top performers in all the winter leagues, Valbuena powered his Cardenales de Lara side all the way to the Venezuelan championship. The Cardenales were eliminated last night, losing 11-9 in a back-and-forth Game 7 affair. During the regular season, the Cubs infielder hit .306/.414/.497 with 39 RBI in 183 at-bats. He also drew 34 walks. All of those totals were good enough for top 10 in the league. In the postseason, he hit .341 and drove in 21 in 91 at-bats.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Estrellas de Oriente of the Dominican league don’t have a shot at reaching the best-of-seven league finals, which take place later this month, but they’re still playing for pride. On Tuesday, it was a trio of Cubs prospects leading the charge in the Estrellas’ 7-6 victory.
In the third inning, Cubs outfielder Nelson Perez reached on a walk and later advanced to third on a pair of singles by Ray Olmedo and Eliezer Mesa. The 25-year-old was then driven in on a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0. He stepped up again in the fourth and ripped a home run to right field to give his side a 5-0 lead. Perez was 1-for-3 with a walk, a homer, an RBI and two runs scored.
But Perez wasn’t the only Cubs prospect to contribute. Junior Lake drove in a run of his own on a single in the third inning and finished the day 1-for-4.
Not to be outdone, Cubs reliever Rafael Dolis was awarded the victory. The right-hander pitched a scoreless eighth inning, striking out one.
The Estrellas are statistically eliminated, as they sit four games out of second place with only two games remaining. The two squads with the best records will square off in the finals next week.
Other notes around the Caribbean:
Luis Valbuena went 2-for-4 with two RBI, a walk and a run scored for the Cardenales of the Venezuelan league.