BLUF: Classic third baseman with power, defense and arm strength; potential All-Star.
The Player: Will Middlebrooks (3B, Boston Red Sox) – Red Sox fifth round pick in 2007. Debuted with Lowell in 2008 and hit .254/.298/.368 in 59 games, knocking 17 doubles and one home run while stealing ten bases without being caught. Spent the entire 2009 season at Low-A Greenville where he hit .265/.349/.404, showing improved plate discipline with 48 walks in 103 games. With High-A Salem in 2010, continued to improve with a .276/.331/.439 line. Power began to show up more with 31 doubles and 12 home runs. Had breakout 2011 season in Double-A with a .302/.345/.520 line that included 25 doubles and 18 home runs in just 96 games. Struggled upon being promoted to Triple-A, hitting just .161 in 16 games for the Paw Sox. Got off to a raging start in Triple-A this year, hitting .333 with nine home runs in 24 games before being called to the big leagues.
Basis of Report: Personal Observation (Eastern League 2011, International League 2012), Industry Contacts
Body (6-4, 225): Prototypical third base body. Excellent size and physicality. Good muscle while maintaining flexibility and agility in the field. Very good athlete for his size. Moves well and has good coordination. Really impressive in a uniform.
Hit: Believes he can hit everything. Has a tendency to expand his zone and chase pitches but has shown improvement in this area the last two years. Plus or better bat speed, good hands and a natural feel for contact give him some hitting projection. Starts with a bit of a “pre-load,” on his back leg, which has helped him stay back more consistently and keep his timing. Still susceptible to breaking balls out of the zone, and may always be. Has potential to hit .275-.280 at his peak, though he could be prone to elongated cold streaks because of his aggressive approach to at-bats. Grade – 40/50
Power: Very natural power that comes from both his natural physical strength and his very good bat speed. Trusts his hands and can drive the ball out of the park to the opposite field. Still learning when and how to turn on pitches on the inner half to maximize the power in his bat. Really started translating power to game situations last year, driving the ball with regularity. Potential for 25+ home runs with occasional seasons where he runs into even more than that. True power profile of a classic third baseman. I’ve toyed with 70 long term power from him, but will remain more conservative in this report. Grade (raw power) – 60/60
Arm: Well-above-average raw arm strength. Regularly pitched in the low-90s coming out of high school and had some draft interest as a pitcher. Arm plays extremely well at third base. Can make every throw needed of a third baseman, including strong throws on the backhand down the line, and also showing impressive strength from his knees and on the run. Grade – 70/70
Fielding: Moves very well at third base. Good agility and reactions to both sides. Can cut in front of the shortstop to make plays without much effort. Has very good hands and good fundamentals in every phase of his defensive game. A true asset at the hot corner. Uses his athleticism and size to his advantage. Could be a potential Gold Glove caliber defender once he settles in at the big league level. Grade – 50/60
Speed: Below-average runner from home to first. Doesn’t get out of the box well and lacks top-end speed. Intelligent base runner that doesn’t cause problems on the bases. Speed is not a part of his game, so below-average running ability shouldn’t be an issue. Grade – 40/40
Summation: Almost a finished product. Hitting ability will have to evolve some and he could struggle to make contact initially, but should adjust and hit for solid averages. Classic power-hitting third baseman with athleticism, good defense and a rocket arm. Potential .275 hitter with 25 home runs and impact defense. Hard worker that shows good leadership ability on the field and in the clubhouse. Potential above-average regular that is a key cog on a competitive team. Could be an occasional All-Star throughout peak seasons.
Relative Risk: Low. Very close to big league ready. Broad base of skills should allow him to contribute in a number of ways throughout his career.
Future: Likely not in Boston for good at this point and could use some additional polishing at Triple-A this summer. Could be the Red Sox everyday third baseman as soon as 2013 and should be a reliable piece of the puzzle that hits in the middle of the order for an extended period of time.