For Starlin Castro, it has been the best of times but for Junior Lake, well...let's just say things could be better.
Scouting is an inexact science. Two years ago, these two shortstops were spoken in the same breath. Today, one is thriving in the majors while the other is struggling in Class A ball. I don't need to tell you which is which.
That wouldn't have been the case in 2007 or 2008, for that matter. For starters, let's look at the tale of the tape.
Weight: 175 lbs.
Place of Birth: Dominican Republic
Date of Birth: March 24, 1990
Cubs pro debut: DSL 2007 (Dominican Summer League)
Signed by: Jose Serra, scout
Weight: 200 lbs.
Place of Birth Dominican Republic
Date of Birth: March 27, 1990
Cubs pro debut: DSL 2007
Signed by: Jose Serra, scout
Looks pretty even with a slight edge to Lake so far based on size. Let's look at year one:
Starlin Castro .299/.371/.371
Junior Lake .274/.341/.404
A slight edge to Lake in Power while Castro showed better on-base skills. Overall, Castro had an OPS of .742. Lake's OPS was .745.
2008 Arizona Rookie League
Here we see Castro start to separate himself a little. But Baseball America still sees a lot of potential in Lake. They rank Starlin Castro as the Cubs #7 prospect while Lake isn't far behind at #13. Both are shortstops. Castro is thought to be the better all-around player while Lake has the better power potential.
The Cubs surprisingly promoted Castro from the AZL all the way to full season, High Class A Daytona. A huge leap. But again, Lake isn't far behind. They skip Short Season A ball and promote Lake to full season Class A Peoria.
Now comes the fork in the road...
While the Cubs expected Castro to tread water and would have been happy if he hit .260, he instead made a great leap forward. He broke out at Daytona, made the All-Star team, got promoted up to AA as a 19 year old and actually improved his numbers at Tennessee, going from a .731 OPS to a .743 OPS. Not a huge jump, but this is a 19 year old kid who jumped into a league where he was playing with 22-23 year olds. The fact that he improved at all was impressive. After another impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League, he became the Cubs #1 prospect and you know the rest.
Lake, meanwhile, struggled at Peoria. His OPS was just .642. He was plagued by poor plate discipline, walking only 18 times and striking out a whopping 138 times. For some reason, the Cubs felt they needed to promote him again. Those reasons were probably Hak Ju Lee and Logan Watkins, highly rated shortstops themselves, who were more than ready for full-season ball. So instead of repeating the league, Lake was bumped to High Class A Daytona where he has an OPS of .448 due largely to a .189 batting average. The power, once considered a strength, has all but evaporated thus far. Only 2 of his 17 hits have gone for extra bases. Both extra base hits are doubles. To top it all off, Lake is no longer considered to be capable of playing SS long term. He'll probably have to move to 3b, where the offensive expectations will only increase.
There was a time where both were considered equals. Some went as far to say that Lake had more upside than Castro. While that may have been true in 2007 and maybe even 2008, it's obvious who the better player is today. It shows how tricky player evaluation can be. It also shows that there is no cookie cutter player development plan. If anything, though it's been Castro who was pushed much more aggressively, it's been Lake who has looked "rushed". Castro has continued to adapt and make adjustments at the highest levels while Lake has continued to regress at the lower levels of the minor leagues.
While scouting has advanced in that past 100 years, it's still a hit or miss game. You never know what you really have until you get that player on the field, until he faces challenges...some will adapt and thrive, others fall behind then fade off into oblivion. When it comes to scouting and development of two seemingly equal talents, Castro represents the best of times, while Lake represents the worst of times.