Oh, the dreaded sophomore slump.
Will Middlebrooks knows all about that. After bursting onto the scene in 2012, slugging a robust .509 and driving in 54 runs in just 75 games for a sub-par Boston Red Sox team, Middlebrooks was labeled the third baseman of the future for the Sox. Scouts marveled at his power, and he was locked into the middle of the Red Sox order to start 2013, fully expected to hit 30 HRs and drive in 100 runs.
Who cares if he didn’t know how to take a walk? Who cares if his high strikeout rate could lead to painfully elongated slumps? Who cares that he profiled as more of a .240 hitter and not the .288 he hit in 2012?
Well, Red Sox fans care now. Middlebrooks fell flat on his face.
He hit .192, posted a miserable .228 on-base percentage, and struck out in a third of his at-bats for two months before the Red Sox decided enough was enough. They shipped him to triple-A Pawtucket in hopes that he could refine his approach and make the necessary adjustments in the minors to fix whatever was ailing him.
So far, so good.
The Red Sox had to deal with the Brandon Snyder and Brock Holt era for two months, but now Middlebrooks is back and better than ever. The former fifth-round pick has hit a scintillating .367 since his early August promotion, and has even taken seven walks in 15 games after only nine in his first 53. I never thought I’d see the day.
Middlebrooks is playing well now, but will it last? Sure, it certainly could. Middlebrooks has shown he’s capable of producing some impressive power streaks. It’s the kind of hitter he’ll most likely always be, which is the exact reason why he’s no longer the Red Sox’ third baseman of the future.
Until he learns how to take a walk, it’s doubtful the Red Sox will consider him their long-term solution at third base with superior prospect Garin Cecchini making a mockery of minor league pitching and waiting in the wings.
Middlebrooks plate discipline will just always be inferior to Cecchini’s (albeit these are Cecchini’s minor league numbers). Consider this:
Middlebrooks’ career OBP in the majors is .301, and was only .332 in the minor leagues. He also had an ugly 4/1 K/BB ratio as a minor leaguer, one that has only gotten worse as a major leaguer. Cecchini boasts an incredible .416 OBP mark as a professional, and has an unheard-of 167 walks and only 193 strikeouts in over 1000 minor league at-bats.
Looking at those numbers, it’s become blatantly obvious. Middlebrooks is no longer the Red Sox’ third baseman of the future. I hope he can finish this year off strong and up his trade-value this offseason, because his time in Boston is running out.