While Junior Lake has been bad at the plate this spring going 3-for-18 with eight strikeouts, it’s possible that he has looked even worse in the outfield. Lake has missed cutoff men, thrown to the wrong base and has simply looked uncomfortable out in center field. However, it’s understandable that Lake is still not fully comfortable with a position he just started playing professionally a year ago.
The fact that Lake has spent so much time in center recently is a testament to his incredible athletic abilities. While his arm has been a liability thus far, it is also one of his greatest strengths when he can unleash throws accurately. Lake started his professional career as a shortstop, so it makes sense that he has the athletic ability to handle center field. That ability has not come close to fully translating to the field, though, and Lake is not helping his chances at opening the year at the starting center fielder.
No matter how well he performs this spring, Lake is going to get his chance to sink or swim for the Chicago Cubs in 2014. The team has been rumored to be shopping outfielder Nate Schierholtz and will likely trade him at some point before the deadline, meaning Lake will be counted on this year as a starting outfielder. While the Cubs have elite outfield prospects in Albert Almora, Jorge Soler and possibly Kris Bryant if he moves from third base, those players will likely see playing time in 2015 at the earliest. The Cubs want to find out what they have in Lake and will have a full season to evaluate him at the big-league level.
If Lake fails as a starter, he can still be incredibly useful as a super-utility player with his ability to play nearly every position on the diamond. If he shows that he can actually handle center field defensively and perform up to standards offensively, Lake can be a valuable asset for the Cubs to trade away when putting together the final pieces of the next competitive team on the North Side.