The 25-year-old has landed on the 15-day disabled list for the second time this season. This time, just like 2012, was an accident as he was hit by a line drive off the bat of Ian Kinsler on Friday evening that led to a fractured finger.
After missing several weeks with a calf injury in April, the young third baseman looked solid, but then struggled with making consistent contact, especially against right-handed pitchers. He has hit only .143 on the season against righties.
The real struggles for Middlebrooks come with two strikes (.125/.239/.225; 23 strikeouts in 46 plate appearances) and when pitchers get ahead in the count (.152/.152/.182).
Sure, the raw power is there, but with four DL stints in three seasons the prospect has really not seen consistent at-bats since the start of the 2012 season. That coupled with a Triple-A stint last season equals a lack of time at the big-league level to work out all the kinks.
Once the finger is fully healed, one can expect the slugging third baseman to work his way back to the prized prospect the Red Sox have been waiting for since his breakout season in 2012.
WEEI.com’s Alex Speier talked to Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn about the struggles of Middlebrooks this season:
“He’s come a long way since I’ve been here,” said Colbrunn. “It’s such a small sample size right now, looking at at-bats. You just look at the overall approach. He’s getting better pitches. He looks like he’s controlling the strike zone better. Timing issues, he’s in a better place. It’s more consistent getting better pitches to swing. He’s not chasing as much as he did. He went through spurts where he expanded the zone a little. All hitters do that. But overall, I think he’s getting better pitches, better overall approach.”
For the time being, Brock Holt will man the hot corner. In 23 at-bats with the Red Sox in April, the 24-year-old has hit .348 with four RBI and a triple with a steady glove.
If he struggles early on, it might be time for Garin Cecchini to get the call.