The Junior Lake and Mike Olt experiment has gone on long enough as far as the 2014 season is concerned.
Entering Spring Training, optimism abounded among Cubs fans, most notably concerning Mike Olt who looked to have moved on from the vision issues which caused so many problems for him in 2013, subsequently making the former top prospect available in the Matt Garza trade with the Texas Rangers.
As Olt was hitting spring home runs with ease, Junior Lake was coming off a successful Cubs debut in 2013 in which he slashed .284/.332/.428 with six home runs and four steals in 254 plate appearances. While there were certainly parts of his game to be ironed out, such as the large gap between his 5.1 percent walk rate and 26.8 percent strikeout rate, Lake had shown the potential to be a power/speed threat with an above average bat and the tools to play well defensively.
Unfortunately, nearly every one of Junior Lake’s numbers has gone in the wrong direction this season. Through 273 plate appearances (nearly the same sampe size as last year) Junior has posted a slash line of .219/.246/.385 with nine home runs and seven stolen bases. While it’s nice to see the extra homers and steals, Lake’s walk rate has gone down to 3.7 percent while his strikeouts have gone up to 34.1 percent.
The only Cubs hitter with a higher strikeout rate is Mike Olt, who has struck out at a rate of 38.9 percent in 208 plate appearances. Olt has shown above average patience with a 9.1 percent walk rate, in addition to a well-above average ISO of .219, but as I pointed out in the breakdown of Olt’s first half numbers, he simply cannot have any measure of success in the Majors if he continues with this approach at the plate.
The Cubs will need a fifth starter soon and most expect it to be filled by 33-year-old Japanese right hander Tsuyoshi Wada, who has put together an excellent season at Triple-A with a 2.77 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 120 strikeouts in 113.2 innings pitched. Soon after Wada is called up the Cubs will be bringing Emilio Bonifacio back up from his oblique injury, meaning two rosters spots will need to be opened up.
It was originally assumed that Arismendy Alcantara would be sent back down to Iowa after a brief cup of coffee, but his performance so far combined with his ability to play second base and any of the outfield positions should keep him with the team for the rest of the season. If Alcantara stays with the Cubs, Junior Lake and Mike Olt would appear to be the ideal candidates to go down to Iowa where they can work on specific areas that need improvement by receiving consistent playing time.
Mike Olt and Junior Lake deserved their shot this year and while both have shown flashes of the players they can become, neither is developing properly by staying up in the Big Leagues rather than playing everyday in the minors. Neither player appears to be a difference maker for the next contending Cubs team, however, both still have the potential to help future Cubs teams win ballgames and that potential should not be wasted.