With so much excitement and buzz surrounding the Red Sox farm system and the prospects the Red Sox have called upon this season for big roles in their lineup, it is sometimes easy to forget that Will Middlebrooks is actually entering his third season in Boston.
It seems like only yesterday that Red Sox fans were clamoring for Middlebrooks to take over for a broken down Kevin Youkilis. Of course, we all know that he did get the call from the big league club and has had some mild success with a few impressive home runs.
Although the front office on Yawkey Way was surely looking for more of a spark from their starting third baseman last season, it may be a bit harsh to consider Middlebrooks (or “Willowbrooks” as Bobby Valentine once referred to him – I will never forget that) a disappointment. If you add up his games played over the last two seasons, the total is 169 games played, or just over a full season. He had 32 HR and 103 RBI combined in those seasons. I know it’s a stretch, but if he pulls that off this year then he will be a huge help in offering protection for David Ortiz and Mike Napoli.
Those kinds of numbers won’t be easy for Middlebrooks this year, but what are the Red Sox’ expectations for him going forward? I believe the answer lies with the aforementioned Napoli. I would not rule out the Sox looking to play Middlebrooks at first base later in his career. The man with the most recognizable beard in the Back Bay just signed a new deal with Boston in the offseason, however for only two years. The short and sweet contracts that have become the modus operandi for Ben Cherington are not only cost effective, but also allow flexibility for a club with a ton of talented prospects waiting in the wings.
With the much-discussed Garin Cecchini making a name for himself in Triple-A and many scouts claiming that Xander Bogaerts may be more comfortable at third base rather than shortstop, Middlebrooks may be running out of options. The Sox will be looking for consistency and power numbers from Will, and if he can show some promise in those areas, he may in fact play himself into the first baseman role when Mike Napoli’s deal is up after next season.
We have a whole season to keep an eye on him and his development, but it is interesting to dream of a Red Sox infield of the future consisting of Middlebrooks, Pedroia, Bogaerts and Cecchini – not to mention the amount of money that will leave on the table to go after a replacement for David Ortiz, and more pitching.