CHICAGO -- There's never been much of a question about Junior Lake's offensive gifts, which have been on display since he was called up to the Majors on July 19. Now, as he grows more accustomed to playing the outfield, the Cubs hope the defense will follow.
Lake, the Cubs' ninth-ranked prospect according to MLB.com, rose through the Minors as an infielder but has played only outfield (19 games in left and 16 in center, including Thursday's start against the Nationals) with the Cubs, particularly with injuries to Brian Bogusevic and Ryan Sweeney, and the departure of David DeJesus. He has made three errors (all in center) and has one outfield assist in 66 chances.
"He brings a lot to the table," manager Dale Sveum said. "He brings a lot of energy to make guys do things. But he can hit the ball out of the ballpark, he can get doubles like he did [on Monday], a ball off [Ryan Zimmerman] and stretch it to a double. That kind of speed, athleticism, power is what you want to fill your team with."
Lake, who has doubled in four straight games entering Thursday, is the first Cubs rookie to achieve that feat since Starlin Castro on Aug. 22-25, 2010. He has multi-hit games in three of his last four, and entered Thursday leading all Major League rookies with 42 hits since his debut on July 19.
Overall, he's hit safely in 23 games, and has 12 multi-hit games in his first 32 big league contests. Lake, who was signed as a non-drafted free agent in February 2007, hit .295 with 10 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 18 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 40 games with Triple-A Iowa this year.
Lake, who went 1-for-4 with a walk and a run, fielded nine putouts cleanly in Thursday's 5-4 loss to the Nationals in 13 innings.
With Castro manning shortstop on an everyday basis, Lake is likely to get the most looks in center or left. And Wrigley Field, with the wind and strange caroms that balls can take off the ivy-covered walls, is no easy place to learn the outfield.
"More than anything, it's the defensive part of it right now," Sveum said. "Just getting comfortable and getting as many reps as possible in center field and in the outfield, as much as anything. Obviously, the hitting stuff -- right now, he's a cut-and-slasher, but you see him even laying off and taking pitches and getting better at that. That kind of gradually comes with the better starting pitching he's going to face. He's already been here about a month now to see what big league pitching is, and you can see he's handling it pretty well."