It hasn't reached a national audience in the way that Puig Mania has, but fans on the North Side of Chicago have already gone nuts over Junior Lake. Off to a Yasiel Puig-esque start of his own, and despite a minuscule sample size, Lake has injected excitement into a Cubs season in which the only thing worth following is which veteran will end up traded next.
With some of the additions that the Cubs have made to restock the farm since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over in the front office, both in the draft and via trade, Lake had become something of a forgotten man. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Off to a fantastic start, Lake has burst onto the scene in eight games with the Cubs. At this point, it may be too early to declare much of anything about him. Or is it?
Bradley Woodrum over at Fangraphs wasted very little time in trying to predict just what the Cubs may have in Junior Lake. Spoiler alert: regression is on the horizon, if it hasn't begun already. That's an obvious one. Woodrum makes some excellent points in terms of the upcoming regression for Lake, and why that shouldn't dismiss what he does bring to the table, in terms of his skill set.
As a hitter, there are a few warning signs, in terms of his mechanics at the plate, and his tendencies, which are already becoming clear:
Another noticeable red flag about Lake, the kind of red flag I notice only on a whimsical occasion, is his busy, almost conspiratorial, hand movements. Mike Newman had a chance to watch Junior Lake back when Lake was in Double-A, and though he did not refer to the then-shortstop’s hand movements as "conspiratorial," he did likewise consider Lake’s swing as "messy and in need of significant quieting"
The Cubs know a thing or two about unnecessary hand movements. Too much hand movement at the plate is part of what contributed to Starlin Castro struggling so badly, especially earlier on this summer. Then there's the matter of his tendencies, which mirror a now former member of the club.
Lake may be showing the early signs of an Alfonso Soriano-like penchant — a guilty pleasure, even — for low sliders.
There's definitely a trend. Through his first 29 at bats at the Major League level, as Woodrum points out, Lake swung and missed 11 times. Five of those 11 swings and misses were on sliders down and away. Again, small sample size, but for a guy that has a history of being a free swinger, this has all the makings of a trend.
Just because Lake has only played eight games in the bigs, doesn't mean that we can't make an assessment of what the Cubs have in the 23-year-old. As a hitter, he's the type that's going up there hacking. He has an erratic stance and a violent swing. He's going to strike out some, but he's also capable of hitting to all fields and hitting for power. You take the good with the bad here.
He has multiple tools. He has raw speed on the basepaths. As the San Francisco Giants about that, as he scored from first on an error to right field and scored the game-winning run in a 3-2 game on Friday night. He has a cannon for an arm. He can play multiple positions, with his time in Chicago being his first really extensive time in centerfield.
There's no clear answer as to what the future holds for Junior Lake as a member of the Chicago Cubs. It's clear that they intend on continuing to play him every day, which could answer some questions about his role beyond 2013. But we have a decent idea of what they do have. An asset on the basepaths and in the field, he's a free swinger and will strike out, but at the same time, he can make some magic happen at the plate, with solid power.
It doesn't exactly require a long sample size to determine that. What the larger sample size, likely the remainder of the 2013, we'll have the second part of the equation: his role beyond this year.