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