Will Middlebrooks, simply put, has been the biggest surprise for the Boston Red Sox this year. Many in the Red Sox front office actually aren’t surprised at all, but few expected Middlebrooks to be this good. But what goes up must come down, right? Maybe. But I think there’s 5 solid reasons to believe that Middlebrooks won’t succumb to a second-half slump.
1) His performance thus far – Middlebrooks, in Tom Brady-esque fashion, finally got his opportunity in the bigs when Kevin Youkilis hit the disabled list. He came in and excelled to the point that Youkilis was traded, claiming third base as his position in the process. With the competition for spots in the Red Sox organization and the pressure cooker that is the spotlight in Boston, very few rookies come up and immediately have an impact for any sort of extended period of time. We saw it with Josh Reddick last season, and he’s on track for a 40 home run campaign this season in Oakland. Not only has Middlebrooks’ performance been better than Reddick’s, but the sample size has been more than sufficient to rule out any “flukiness.” In 48 games this season, Middlebrooks has 51 hits, 11 doubles, 10 home runs, 37 RBIs, and a .298 batting average. That’s seizing your opportunities.
2) Scouting report – As I mentioned, Middlebrooks’ performance isn’t all that much of a surprise to many. He was rated as the Red Sox #1 prospect entering 2012. He’s 6’4 and 225 pounds, with a scouting report claiming home run power to every field. As a former pitcher he’s got a gun of an arm, with the ability to throw well over 90mph and he’s light on his feet defensively. In other words, the scouts see this guy as a stud in the making.
3) He’s developed in the minors – After being drafted by the Red Sox at 19 years old in 2007, Middlebrooks was admittedly way behind his teammates with regards to his development as a baseball player. Why? Because he was an All-State football player (in Texas) and didn’t really turn his attention fully to baseball at any point in high school. He’s already bounced around the minors, further developing his skills, for 4+ years. In 2011 Middlebrooks would split time between Portland and Pawtucket, putting together a .285 average, 23 home runs, and 94 RBIs in 116 games. This season during his time in Pawtucket Middlebrooks has racked up a .333 average, 9 home runs, and 27 RBIs in 24 games. He’s clearly ready for this next step, and he’s still only 23 years old.
4) Bragging rights – As I previously mentioned, Middlebrooks was something of a jock in high school with football being his other game of choice. He’s been friends with former Arkansas quarterback and current Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallet since he was a child, and he’s currently dating a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. You better believe than Middlebrooks and Mallet are rooting for each other as they make their way up through Boston’s sporting ranks. As of now Middlebrooks has the bragging rights, something I’m sure he’s enjoying chiding Mallet about.
5) Fearless – Will Middlebrooks is 23 years old, and he seems completely unfazed by the hype in Boston. Youth often creates an ignorance is bliss situation, and it appears to be working. Middlebrooks seems too excited and focused on the opportunity in front of him to be bogged down mentally. Much as golfers tend to putt better as they’re coming up in golf’s ranks, Middlebrooks isn’t over-thinking his game as a rookie, instead relying on his natural abilities and allowing himself to continue to develop his eye at the plate.
All in all, I tend to be very reserved when it comes to getting excited about Red Sox prospects – I’m far more inclined to jump on the bandwagon of an experienced free agent’s signing. That said, I’ve seen enough of Middlebrooks to feel more than comfortable with him owning third base at Fenway Park. I think he’ll be a centerpiece of the Sox offensive attack for a long time to come – a key piece to the new generation of Red Sox that is just starting to bloom.