Will Middlebrooks has seen his career go from rising star to struggling talent to potentially a Quad-A piece in a hurry.
Just two years ago, he was one of few bright spots on a losing Red Sox team as he slashed .288/.325/.509 and projected as the third baseman of the future before breaking his wrist on a hit by pitch. He entered the 2013 season as the starting third baseman and one of the more intriguing pieces on the roster; however, he never really delivered on the promise he had exhibited in his rookie season as he hit a meager .192/.228/.389 in the first half before a demotion to Triple-A Pawtucket. He earned a promotion in August and did slash a much-improved .276/.329/.476 down the stretch run. However, questions still loomed over his future as a Major Leaguer.
Understandably, 2014 was shaping up to be a huge year for Middlebrooks. Once again slated to start the season at third base, he has played just 21 games this season as his year has been ruined by injuries thus far. In those 21 games, he hasn’t done anything to prove himself, slashing just .197/.305/.324, but it’s hard to take anything legitimate away from such a small sample size.
That’s what makes the second half of this season so important for Middlebrooks.
Middlebrooks has spent the last couple of weeks on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket, returning from a broken finger. His finger is reportedly fully recovered and he is expected to be activated from the disabled list this weekend. And in a season which is bound to be full of experiments from here on out, perhaps none is more essential to Boston’s future plans as what Middlebrooks is able to accomplish in the final two-and-a-half months of the season.
If Middlebrooks succeeds and is finally able to combine improved plate discipline with his trademark right-handed power, then he should once again secure a starting job in the 2015 season. However, if he continues to flounder at the plate then he will likely find himself either in Pawtucket or as trade bait over the offseason. With power such a valuable commodity in today’s game, it would be a shame to see Middlebrooks fail at achieving a productive career; however, considering the failure rate of prospects, he certainly wouldn’t be the first one.