Sports

Cubs Hope Junior Lake Bridges Gap To Major Youth Movement

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 9: Junior Lake #21 of the Chicago Cubs hits an RBI single against the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh inning at Busch Stadium on August 9, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Junior Lake (Photo Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

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By Rich Arleo

CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.

Junior Lake, Outfielder, Chicago Cubs

2013 season (minors): 40 G, 156 AB, .295 BA, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 14 SB, .803 OPS

2013 season (majors): 64 G, 236 AB, .284 BA, 6 HR, 16 RBI, 4 SB, .760 OPS

Like many seasons that Cubs fans have endured, the 2013 version wasn’t much fun. The team lost 96 games and finished last in the National League Central.

While times have been rough, the future may be looking up with all young talent in the Cubbies’ system. Power-hitting first baseman Anthony Rizzo broke out in 2013 and almost immediately became the biggest threat in an otherwise weak lineup. Along with Rizzo, the team has top-10 prospect Javier Baez working his way through the Minor Leagues, and outfielders Jorge Soler and 19-year-old Albert Amora waiting in the wings. Unfortunately, these players are a year or more away from making it to Wrigley Field.

But there’s another name to watch this season: Junior Lake. The outfielder signed at 17 as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic way back in 2007. And Cubs fans got a little taste last season of what he can do. In 64 games with Chicago, Lake hit a respectable .284 with a .332 OBP, six home runs, 16 doubles and four steals.

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Lake, now 23, debuted with the organization in Rookie League the same year he signed. He developed slowly and struggled through multiple Single-A levels as a teenager before showing some signs of breaking out in 2011. That year, between High-A and Double-A, he hit 12 home runs and stole 38 bases in 116 games. The outfielder followed that up with similar numbers in 2012, even improving his on-base percentage to a career-high mark of.341. He matched that number last season in just 40 games for Triple-A Iowa while hitting .295 with 14 steals.

The Cubs brought him up when they needed an outfielder last July, and Lake promptly went 3-for-4 with a double and a steal in his first game. His success continued with a seven-game hitting streak before leveling out a bit. But his final line after 64 games was impressive enough to have likely earned him a starting job in the 2014 outfield.

Lake could potentially lead off for the Cubs while adding some speed on the basepaths. He doesn’t appear to have a noteworthy ceiling, but he’s still young may not have reached his full potential yet. At least that’s what the Cubs are hoping. From opening day, Lake will get a chance to develop at the plate and in the field in a big league lineup that needs him to produce.

Next up: Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics

Check out our Fantasy Baseball Preview, breaking down the top players at each position.

Rich Arleo is a Marist College alum who has been a professional writer and editor since graduating in 2010. Find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for more of his sports musings.