Credit: kdemerly-flickr-CreativeCommons

Blue Jays Make or Break: Junior Lake

Jays From the Couch will determine what the chances are that Junior Lake will make the Blue Jays Opening Day Roster

 

Previous Make or Break Candidates: Chris Colabello, Drew Hutchison, Steve Delabar, and A.J. Jimenez

Once considered the Chicago Cubs 8th ranked prospect, the Cubs anticipated that Junior Lake would rise through the ranks of Chicago’s minor league system to form a strong young nucleus with Starlin Castro.

Lake was signed as an International Free-Agent on February 13, 2007 out of the Dominican Republic. He made his professional début as a 17-yr-old for the Cubs DSL team in 2007, where he posted a solid .745 OPS in 62 games.

As a prospect, the native of San Pedro de Macoris flashed a quick bat, above-average power, plus speed, a strong infield arm, and a projectable frame. Junior started over 400 games as a short stop before being converted to outfield in 2013.

Lake made his Major League début on July 19th, 2013 as a 23-yr-old against the Colorado Rockies going 3-for-4 with a stolen base. He split time between CF and LF during his time in Chicago.

In 3 seasons in Chicago Lake hit .241 with 16HR, 30 doubles, and 3 triples. Junior failed to carry over his plus speed to the running game with only 15 stolen bases in 22 attempts over 193 games.

With the Chicago Cubs in the midst of a playoff push and their minor league system overflowing with high ceiling talent, Junior Lake got traded on July 31st, 2015. He was sent to the Baltimore Orioles for right-handed relief pitcher Tommy Hunter.

With the O’s, Lake got bounced between the Orioles Triple-A affiliate Norfolk Tides and Baltimore. He appeared in 29 major league games in 2015, hitting a mere .200 with a HR, 5 RBI, and 4 SB.

On December 10th the O’s designated Junior Lake for assignment. The Blue Jays claimed the 25-yr-old  eight days later. He enters Spring Training competing with Canadians Michael Saunders and Dalton Pompey for the starting LF job.

This Spring, Lake should benefit from being around players such as Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The Blue Jays right-fielder and DH have excellent plate awareness and rarely swing at bad pitchers. Junior swings at about 50% of the pitches seen with  an awful 45 O-Swing% but solid 75 Z-Swing%. Learning from Jose and Edwin should help improve these numbers.

In 2014, Junior Lake saw 1232 total pitches with 381 of them being balls and 851 being strikes. Lake needs to cut down on his O-Swing% which will force pitchers to throw more pitches in the zone. More pitches in the zone will allow Lake to capitalize on his 75 Z-Contact%.

Blue Jays hitting coach Brook Jacoby is credited with transforming Ryan Goins and Kevin Pillar into more patient hitters. Jacoby helped Goins increased his walk percentage from 2.6% in 2014 to 9.1% in 2015. Pillar benefited from Jacoby’s instruction by lowering his K% from 23.0% in 2014 to 13.5% in 2015.

If Brook Jacoby can have similar results with Junior Lake, the Blue Jays will have a controllable asset. Lake doesn’t reach his arbitration years until 2018, with his first free-agent year coming in 2021 as 31-yr-old.

Scenario #1

Michael Saunders proves he’s healthy, can hit, and can play the field, winning the starting LF job. Blue Jays management decides that Dalton Pompey would benefit from playing everyday with the Bisons rather than being a 4th outfielder in Toronto, opening the door for a Saunders/Lake platoon in LF. Saunders is a LHB who hits RHP better than Lake, and Lake is a RHB who hits LHP better than Saunders.

Scenario #2 

Michael Saunders struggles to stay healthy, landing on the DL. Pompey has a good spring and runs away with a starting gig. The 4th outfield gig would come down to a battle between Junior Lake and newly acquired Dominic Brown.

Scenario #3

Lake fails to impress in limited spring action. Since he’s out of options Toronto will need to sneak him through waivers and send him to Buffalo.

Each scenario is likely, with scenario #3 being the most likely. With that said, could this be the end of Junior Lake’s time in Toronto? Or, could he pass through waivers and head to Buffalo. If that is the case, and no one claims him (with that much team control), could this be the end of his major league consideration?

 

 

*Featured Image Credit: kdemerly UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0

 

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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.

Shaun Doyle

Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.

  • JRedmond14

    I hope he figures it out. He would be an absolute steal if this was his breakout season. Tons of upside and maybe a team that wants him would be the best scenario for him.

    • RyanMueller

      would you rather see him get regular at-bats in Buffalo or spend his time in TO with the hopes of he gets some semi-regular at-bats as a 4th OF?

      • JRedmond14

        I think probably Buffalo but you don’t want to lose him going through waivers. Id rather have him up and Pompey down for the first bit of the season. Give lake a shot and if it doesn’t work so be it

        • RyanMueller

          Completely agree. Pompey would benefit from more Triple-A time

  • Maximilian Brandon

    Other than striking out 1 every 3 AB and walking at a Pillar-like rate of ~5%, what’s not to like? Still young at 25 (26 by opening day) Junior has a lot to figure out this spring to have any chance with the Jays.

    • RyanMueller

      I like his potential, but untapped potential is a waste.

      • Maximilian Brandon

        Jacoby has his work cut out for him.

        • RyanMueller

          What a difference Brook made last year.
          Remember seeing Kevin Siezter in everyone’s face between innings, before and after at-bats. Kevin got a tonne of air time, where as, Jacoby was very low key.

  • Arjonn

    There would seem to be a decent chance Lake won’t be claimed if the Jays try to send him to Buffalo. They were only able to claim him in the first place because every team with higher priority didn’t.

    Also, re. his 2014 balls and strikes, he saw 69.1% strikes, a figure that is quite a bit above the MLB average which is 60-ish. So not seeing enough strikes doesn’t seem like it was a problem, at least not that year.

    In addition, his 75% z-swing% isn’t necessarily good. Average is about 65%. His higher % suggests he swings more than most hitters do at strikes that are on the corners and edges where solid contact is less likely. Last year, EE came in at 64.5% or 67% depending on the system used, and JB at 60.5% or 61.9%. His z-contact of ~75% is also well below average which is in the 87% range (e.g. 2015 EE ~85%, JB ~87.5%).

    So, it looks like Lake needs not only to swing less often at pitches off the plate but also at fewer strikes.

    • RyanMueller

      that’s what I said. Swing less, take more pitches which will force pitches to throw more pitches in the zone and could result in better contact.

      • Arjonn

        Better contact relative to himself, but still below average.

        • RyanMueller

          Yup. The last thing this roster needs is to start loading up with hi K lo contact players. I’m sure you’d agree that guys with hi OBP are what the jays should be striving for. Let’s hope that Lake can change his game enough to produce an acceptable BB% and OBP to stick.

      • Arjonn

        Better contact relative to himself, but still below average.