May 2, 2012
The situation: With Boston starting third baseman Kevin Youkilis (back) being placed on the disabled list, Middlebrooks, 23, has a chance, at least temporarily, to show what he can do. Prior to getting the call, Middlebrooks was one of the hottest hitters in the minor leagues (.333/.380/.677 in 24 games for Triple-A Pawtucket).
Background: A fifth-round pick in the 2007 draft, Middlebrooks got close to first-round-bonus money to avoid going the college route. He took the offer, but early returns were not especially promising. His defense has always impressed, but his bat required some patience. He hit just .265 with seven home runs in his full-season debut. But after showing signs of life in 2010, he had a breakout campaign last year, including a .302/.345/.520 line for Double-A Portland in 96 games, which included 18 home runs. This year's impressive numbers include a two-week stretch during which he hit eight home runs in 12 games.
What he can do: Middlebrooks just looks like a third baseman. He's both athletic and physical at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, and he has plus range, good hands, and an outstanding arm. In fact, scouts also considered him as a pitcher coming out of high school. His power has come slowly because his approach has always been more about contact and allowing his natural strength to work for him. That gives him power to all fields. He never has walked much, and his inability to lay off "chase pitches" have led to some high strikeout totals.
Immediate big league future: The biggest challenge for Middlebrooks will be his approach. He sees far too many pitches as hittable and can expand his strike zone at times, which is a trait big league pitchers will surely exploit. The power should play immediately, but he could struggle in the batting average category. He's a below-average runner and not much of a stolen-base threat.
Long-term: For now, it appears he's getting a reward for a job well done, in turn offering Red Sox fans a preview of things to come. But he'll step aside when Youkilis is ready to return. Middlebrooks likely won't become a full-time player until 2013, but when he does, he has All-Star potential and the ability to hit .280 with 20-25 home runs per year.