Middlebrooks: Does Will have the way?

Middlebrooks

Most scouts and Red Sox development folks must believe that Will Middlebrooks has tons of talent and can be a fine major league hitter and a mainstay in the Red Sox lineup for many years. However, after a potential-laden first two years with the Sox, some disbelievers must be about. Why would we have tendered Stephen Drew (at $14M) in the offseason if the plan wasn’t to put him back at shortstop and move Xander Boegarts back to Middlebrooks’ spot at third? I am still bullish though. He, more than any other player, has the ability to take a major stride forward in 2014. And he needs to.

Middlebrooks first made his debut with the Red Sox in 2012 and his power hitting skills ultimately chased Kevin Youkilis out of town. In only 254 at-bats over the year, Middlebrooks hit .288, blasted 15 homers and had 54 RBIs; double those numbers for a full-season representation. A nice way to break in and optimism reigned throughout Red Sox Nation. The starting third baseman as 2013 began, Middlebrook’s production declined even if the power didn’t. The Sox sent him back to Pawtucket to get it right, and then recalled him in August. Over the course of the entire season, encompassing 94 games and 374 at-bats, Middlebrooks’ average plummeted to .227, even while his homers increased to 17 long balls. He’s never going to be Brooks Robinson at third base but disappointingly, his play there was mediocre at best over both years. But let’s face it, it’s his bat that he’s here for.

What are we to make of all this? I am still a Middlebrooks believer. Sophomore slumps are common. I prefer to point out to folks that over the course of only his first 615 major league at-bats–Middlebrooks has crushed 32 homers. Not too dusty! In fact, in today’s pitching dominated game with decreasing offense, that’s downright gaudy.

Please take a second to review last year’s lineup—top to bottom. Who do think can/will improve on his 2013 numbers this year? Ellsbury? Oh no wait. He’s gone. Maybe Pedroia will regain his power if his thumb is completely healed. Papi, Victorino, Napoli, Nava, Gomes? I doubt it. The now departed Salty vs. AJ behind the plate? A wash. Who knows about Bogaerts? I sure hope he’s better than Drew, but do we know? Can Sizemore/Bradley Jr. approach what Ellsbury provided in offensive punch? Unlikely.

Of everybody, Middlebrooks is most likely to show major improvement, and his ability to do that is hugely critical to the 2014 Sox. We simply need him to hit—a lot.

If he doesn’t, what recourse do we have? Move Bogaerts to third and play Jonathan Herrera at short? Ugggh. Who else on the active roster can even play third? Nobody is the answer. We do have a terrific third base prospect in Garin Cecchini, but he’s only 22, split last year between A and AA ball and it’s just too early.

The Sox pitching will carry them in 2014, but if the offense is to be of pennant-winning caliber, Will Middlebrooks needs to play a big role. I say he will.

Thoughts From The Halfway Point Of Spring Training 2014

spring training 2014Ladies and gentleman, the Boston Red Sox have less than 20 games left on their ‘spring training 2014’ schedule. With the start of the regular season right around the corner, here are my thoughts from the halfway point of spring training.

The Resurrection of Grady Sizemore

We have no idea if Sizemore’s body can withstand the grind of the everyday season, but it’s just great to see him back on the field. Sizemore is hitting over .300 this spring and has a lot of the same speed he did prior to his injuries. Depending on how he finishes the spring, Sizemore could end up on the Red Sox roster come Opening Day.

Who’s the Odd Man in the Outfield?

Boston can’t keep six outfielders to start the season. You would imagine that the team would keep Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes because they like to play them both depending on pitching match ups. Obviously the Red Sox are not going to get rid of their gold-glove outfield, Shane Victornio. So that leaves Sizemore, Jackie Bradley Jr. or Mike Carp as the odd man out. Carp has been a subject of trade rumors this spring, but I don’t know if the Sox want to lose his ability to play multiple positions.

Felix Doubront Looking to Have a Breakout Season

The 26-year-old Doubront came to spring training in the best shape of his career. The left-hander worked this winter with Red Sox pitching Coach Juan Nieves to improve his delivery and command. The Red Sox will depend more on Doubront this season since he will be the third or fourth starter in the rotation.

The Bullpen Could Be Even Scarier in 2014 

With Andrew Miller healthy and the addition of Edward Mujica, the Red Sox bullpen is even deeper than it was last season. So far in camp, closer Koji Uehara looks like the same dominant pitcher he was last season. If he and Junichi Tazawa pitch similar to the way they did in 2013, then the Red Sox’s bullpen will be tough to beat in the later innings.

 A.J. Pierzynski Has Fit in Well

Sorry to disappoint you Pierzynski haters, but he hasn’t been a problem throughout camp. The 37-year-old catcher has quietly blended in well with his teammates. Pierzynski’s power and good defense should come in handy at Fenway Park this season.

Xander Bogaerts Has Yet to Show His Potential

Bogaerts has hit just .167 in the spring thus far, but he has the potential to be one of the best shortstops in baseball. The second ranked prospect, according to MLB.com, has the power to hit 25-to-30 home runs a season and could become a .300 hitter. Bogaerts’ defense may not be his strength, but he certainly isn’t a liability at shortstop.