Middlebrooks is already in Boston record books
Will Middlebrooks is looked at as the Red Sox top prospect and so far in 2012 the 6’4” infielder had proved why in Triple-A Pawtucket. Middlebrooks slugged his way to a .333 average and a 1.057 OPS, notching nine home runs and 27 RBIs in 24 games. Prior to his call-up, that production had him ranked 2nd in the International League in homers and runs batted in. [FREE PREVIEW OF PREMIUM CONTENT]
Middlebrooks may not have gotten the call to the majors so early if not for the unfortunate injury to Red Sox veteran, Kevin Youkilis, who’s barking back has him planted on the disabled list for the foreseeable future. The opportunity was deemed appropriate to promote one of the crown jewels of the system as the calendar turned into May, and the organization called upon their heralded third baseman.
“It’s been awesome, I have had nothing but positive feedback from everyone.”
Everyone includes those closest to the 23-year old rookie.
“I’ve had a lot of support, my family is here, the fans are great, and the players are great, it couldn’t be any better,” Middlebrooks said of his short time so far in the majors.
While he’s been up with the team less than a week, Middlebrooks has displayed his potential. He became the first Red Sox player since 2000 to reach base three times in a debut. If that’s not enough, he was also the first Sox player since 1975 to collect two hits and a stolen base in a debut.
He added onto that performance as he had an extra-base hit in first two major league games, becoming the 2nd player in the organization’s history to do so.
After being scratched from the May 5th lineup due to a tight left hamstring, Middlebrooks was back in the lineup the next day in the finale of the home stand.
Down 5-1 and trying to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, Middlebrooks displayed why he’s thought of having huge potential, especially in the hitter friendly confines of Fenway.
He belted a first-pitch slider over the green monster seating and into the parking lot for a game-tying grand slam in the bottom of the fifth. The big fly electrified the crowd and red sox dugout, and Middlebrooks took notice.
“[It was] probably the biggest rush of my life," he said. "Not only was it a home run, but a grand slam that tied the game up.”
Luckily for the kid, the organization got the memorable home run ball back and into Middlebrooks' possession, something that will last a lifetime for the third baseman.
“They did, a security guard got it in the parking lot. It’s something that I can put on the mantle for sure.”
The grand slam put him in rarefied air in Red Sox history, as he became only the second Red Sox player to hit a grand slam as his first career home run, joining the infamous Daniel Nava.
As if the thrill of the first home stand as a big leaguer wasn’t enough, Middlebrooks was involved in one of the most unique baseball games ever played in historic Fenway Park, where two position players wound up pitching the end of the game. Middlebrooks kept his focus vs. Oriole first baseman-turned pitcher, Chris Davis.
“Go up there and have a serious at-bat, even though it was a position player. Just treat him like it’s a pitcher.”
Baseball is a daily grind for all involved, and although his youth is in his favor, Middlebrooks tried to keep things in focus as Sunday’s 17-inning classic wore on.
“Man, it’s a grind, (try to) put on good at-bats and play good defense.”
While his talents have been on display so far in 2012 at both levels, he has also showed his youthfulness. Late in Sunday’s 17th inning marathon, he hit a pitch into the left field corner, but stopped halfway down the baseline thinking the ball was foul, and only got a single out of it. However his new skipper, Bobby Valentine, deflected his young players’ miscue.
“That ball comes back in this park, it kind of starts foul and gets blown back (fair). He’ll run next time, that’s for sure," Valentine said. "He was very surprised that ball came back, but once you see it once or twice, you’re not surprised anymore.”
Lesson learned for the youngster, who had an otherwise outstanding ballgame both offensively and defensively [he showed excellent leather and a strong arm strength to start a few key double plays to get out of jams.
Young hitters may feel pressure to produce after being called up from the minors, especially while trying to replace a proven player such as Youkilis, but Middlebrooks doesn’t see himself changing.
“My approach has been exactly the same,” he said firmly.
Given the adjustment period to big league life for any young player, Middlebrooks has taken comfort in his exchanges with the Red Sox hitting coach, Dave Magadan, who has preached to keep it simple.
“He’s not really stressed much, [just to] use what got you here. I’m a good player and trust my ability,” Middlebrooks said confidently.
That trust has given him a .409 batting average with three home runs and 9 RBIs in his first week of play, providing a much needed spark to the Red Sox lineup.