With Kevin Youkilis on the 15 day DL, Will Middlebrooks has gotten a chance to prove himself in the majors a bit earlier than planned and thus far, it couldn’t be going any better. The 23 year old third baseman has 22 plate appearances thus far with the Boston Red Sox and he is hitting an incredible .381/.409/.952. He has driven in nine runs thanks in part to hitting three home runs since joining the big league club and he has also stolen a base. He has also lived up to expectations in the field, flashing excellent range and strong arm at third base.
This torrid start can partly be seen as an extension of his incredible run this year beginning in AAA. Prior to being called up, Middlebrooks was hitting .300/.380/.677 in Pawtucket with nine home runs in 100 plate appearances. The Red Sox top prospect is clearly locked in right now and pitchers at any level are going to pay for mistakes to the powerful right-handed slugger. This was especially apparent in the final game against the Baltimore Orioles, where Middlebrooks hit a game tying grand slam off Tommy Hunter. The blast completely cleared the monster seats and landed on top of the parking garage across Lansdowne St.
Middlebrooks will not be able to maintain this ridiculous level of production over the long haul, of course. However, he has shown that he can handle the transition to the majors in stride and he may well be ready to man third base full time this season. Looking beyond his gaudy numbers, his peripherals give us a better idea of the type of player that he will be in the near future and they are very encouraging as well.
Will Middlebrooks has never been the patient hitter Youkilis is, but he has the power and strike zone coverage to make up for that. His current walk rate of 4.6% is a bit lower than he will probably have over a full season, but it does remind us that he is never going to be confused with the “Greek God of Walks.” Similarly, he is striking out at a rate that is probably close to what we can expect from him as rookie, at 22.7%. What has been really impressive in these early at bats is Middlebrooks eye. He has been known as free swinger and that is not going to ever completely change, but in 22 trips to the plate, major league pitchers have not been able to make him chase too many balls out of the zone. He has swung at 27.1% of pitches out of the zone thus far, somewhere between the extreme patience of a Kevin Youkilis (18.9% career) and the free swinging ways of a Mike Aviles (32.8% career). Overall he is swinging at 41% of pitches, a slightly below average number.
All of this bodes very well for him. His early success may not be sustainable, but there is no reason to believe he can’t succeed right now with this type of approach at the plate. Given the excellent defense he can provide at third base, he should be able to give the Red Sox averge or better overall value right now as everyday player. The team will probably want to see how he adjusts when his incredibly hot bat cools down some, but with a number of teams seeking help at first base, talk of trading Kevin Youkilis is almost certain to grow louder the longer Middlebrooks hot hitting continues. While a healthy Youk probably provides more value than Middlebrooks right now, the team’s pitching needs could force GM Ben Cherington’s hand closer to the trade deadline.