The Red Sox have a new third baseman. Will Middlebrooks, who entered the year as Baseball America’s #51 overall prospect, was called up by the Boston Red Sox last week and has now played in 4 games at the big league level and is absolutely crushing it. With Kevin Youkilis-Brady (he married Tom Terrific’s sister Julie this spring) off to a slow start and forced to the disabled list with a bad back, the Sox needed to call up another infielder and Middlebrooks was the easy choice. After starting 24 games at triple-A Pawtucket in which he hit 9 home runs, had 27 runs batted in, and was batting a very solid .333, Middlebrooks took the call and made the trip up 95 and 93 North and arrived at “The Show”. And so far Middlebrooks has shown that he belongs, going 8-21 (.381 batting average) with 3 home runs and 9 runs batted in. To put that in perspective, Middlebrooks now has one more homer and the same number of RBIs in his four games than Youkilis managed in 18 games to begin this season.
After hitting two home runs last night against the Kansas City Royals, Middlebrooks has shown that the power he exhibited in the minor leagues can carry over to the majors. Middlebrooks hit a total of 23 home runs in 2011 spread out across single-A Lowell (3 in 4 games), double-A Portland (18 in 96 games), and the already mentioned triple-A Pawtucket (2 in 16 games). And with the power he’s shown so far this season he only improved, having gone yard 12 times already in 2012 (9 for Pawtucket, 3 for Boston). Middlebrooks display last night prompted manager Bobby Valentine to tell the media “I’ve never seen a guy hit both foul poles and almost take the center field fence down with a line drive…Three impressive swings. He’s been an impressive player so far”. Kevin Youkilis, are you listening?
Middlebrooks has an exciting past. He was born September 9, 1988 in Greenville, Texas, and like most athletes he grew up playing baseball, basketball and football primarily. Middlebrooks attended Liberty-Eylau High School in Texarkana, Texas and as a pitcher he threw in the low 90s. He led his team to the Class 3A state championship during the 2006 season, Will’s junior year, and after his senior year he was named to the Class 3A first-team and also named Class 3A Player of the Year by the Texas Sports Writers Association. And remember when I said Middlebrooks played football too? Well he was named an All-State punter while also playing quarterback and kicker for his high school team, and he handed the ball off to a running back who is currently in the National Football Association, LaMichael James, a second round pick of the San Francisco 49ers out of the University of Oregon. Middlebrooks is also childhood friends with New England Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, who may be the only person from Texarkana, Texas with a stronger arm than him. While in high school he committed to play baseball and football at Texas A&M University, but after being drafted by the Red Sox in the fifth round of the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft he decided to go to professional baseball and took with him a $925,000 signing bonus.
Middlebrooks quickly worked his way through the Sox minor league system, starting with the transition from shortstop to third base as he added size to his frame. He made his professional debut with the Lowell Spinners in 2008 where he batted .254 with one home run and then started the 2009 season for the Greenville Drive of the Class A South Atlantic League where he finished with 7 home runs, 57 RBIs and a .265 batting average. In 2010 he played the entire season with the Salem Red Sox of the Class A-Advanced Carolina League, and again added to his production hitting .276 with 12 home runs and 70 runs driven in. In 2011 he finally moved out of the class A ranks after starting 4 games at Lowell, and then played 96 games at double-A Portland (.302, 18 HR, 80 RBI), and then closed out the year at triple-A Pawtucket (.161, 2 HR, 8 RBI in 16 games). To start 2012 he was in Pawtucket again and produced with the .333 average, 9 homers and 27 RBIs that I mentioned earlier, and when Youkilis went down injured it was finally time to give Middlebrooks his first taste of the majors.
So far Will Middlebrooks has provided a spark that the Red Sox truly need. The 23 year old Texan has the type of power that he could eventually hit in the middle of a formidable lineup, and that power will be needed as Adrian Gonzalez goes through this bit of a rough patch that he’s currently in. When Kevin Youkilis is healthy enough to return Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox front office group will have a tough decision to make about who mans the third base position, and with the potential that Middlebrooks has I would hard pressed to think that “The Greek God of Walks” will automatically assume his usual position when he is activated from the disabled list. I realize it has only been a small sample size, but watching Middlebrooks mash at the plate has been one of the few positives from the 2012 edition of the Boston Red Sox and I look forward to seeing how the rest of his rookie season and his career will unfold.