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February 10, 2010 at 8:20 AM

2010 Prospect Previews: Alex Wilson and Will Middlebrooks

The second installment of the series takes a look at two players looking to break camp with the Salem Red Sox and make strong development strides in 2010 to push themselves towards the upper levels of the system.

Alex Wilson

Position: Starting Pitcher
2009 Team: Lowell Spinners
2010 Projected Teams: Greenville Drive/Salem Red Sox

Strengths: Wilson uses his fastball to pound the strike zone and it is currently the best pitch he features in his repertoire. Working 92-93 MPH, he’s able to utilize both sides of the plate well and exhibits good command and control of the pitch, rarely leaving it up during his time with the Lowell Spinners in 2009. Not surprisingly, as a more refined college pitcher Wilson dominated the New York-Penn League using his fastball almost exclusively. Wilson features clean mechanics, a repeatable delivery with good balance and drive, and comes at hitters from about a 3/4 arm slot. Despite coming from the college ranks he showed the willingness to pitch inside right out of the gate and isn’t afraid to go after hitters aggressively with his fastball. His low-to-mid 80’s slider shows flashes of plus potential and can dart out of the strike zone with some good bite, causing batters to swing over the top of it or get fooled mid-swing due to the tight snap he can get. Rebounding from Tommy John surgery in 2008, Wilson came back strong from the injury and there is some projection left on his fastball, with the potential to regain the mid-90s velocity it operated with prior to the surgery, along with adding more life in the process.

Development Needs: Throwing exclusively 2-3 inning outings that were capped around 35 pitches, Wilson has yet to completely air it out as a starter and go deeper into outings as a professional. After bouncing around a bit between the rotation and bullpen in his final season with Texas A+M, the Red Sox have decided to bring Wilson along the starter’s route, and he spent the summer getting comfortable in the routine at the professional level. It remains to be seen how his stuff will hold up as he goes deeper into outings and how his command will play against more polished hitters. He’ll need to continue to keep the ball down and work the corners with his heater. While his slider shows good potential as a second weapon in his arsenal, there is still room for improvement with getting consistent hard snap on the pitch, and it can sometimes sweep too much across the strike zone where more advanced hitters will be able to lay off of it. Lacking a third pitch - his change-up is currently below average - Wilson will need to work on the feel of this pitch to continue the path of a starting pitcher and keep hitters guessing multiple times through a lineup so they don’t sit exclusively on his fastball.

2010 Outlook: Wilson looks capable of skipping a level and starting the season with the Salem Red Sox, but could also break camp with the Greenville Drive to get some longer outings under his belt. Regardless, 2010 will be a year of development as a starting pitcher for Wilson. Expect everything to play off his fastball and for him to continue to pound the strike zone with confidence in the pitch. After another off-season removed from surgery and time within the structure of the Red Sox strength and conditioning program, it is not out of reach for Wilson to sit closer to the mid-90’s with his fastball and add some jump on the pitch. Facing more advanced hitters, an improvement in his secondary offerings will go a long way for him sustaining success, and further sharpening of his slider will allow him to maintain good strikeout numbers in 2010. This season should lend some clues as to where Wilson is going to ultimately project down the line and how quickly he’ll rise through the system.

Will Middlebrooks

Position: Third Base
2009 Team: Greenville Drive
2010 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox

Strengths: An excellent athlete with lightning-quick wrists and a compact stroke, Middlebrooks’ game made strides in 2009. After a slow start and a delay to his season due to a hamstring injury, he came on in the second half of the season. In his first experience with full-season baseball, Middlebrooks showed glimpses of his power potential while hitting more line drives as he adjusted to the league. Given his excellent bat speed and improving strength, Middlebrooks projects to have above-average power down the line, and the ball carries off his bat well when he makes solid contact. He’s shown the willingness to make adjustments and put time into his craft during his early career within the Red Sox system. Improving upon his patience and pitch recognition at the plate, he showed he can go deeper into counts as the season wore on and was able to draw walks at a better rate than during his first summer with the Lowell Spinners back in 2008. A converted shortstop, Middlebrooks is an improving defender at third base with a plus throwing arm across the diamond, and shows the necessary reactions to be a solid defensive player at the position.

Development Needs: Middlebrooks has gotten off to slow starts in his first two professional seasons and at times has looked overmatched against professional pitching. Most, if not all, of his struggles stem from his raw approach and pitch recognition. While he improved on these attributes in 2009, he still has a lot more work to do with this aspect of his offensive game as he reaches higher levels, especially with cutting down his strikeouts, recognizing breaking balls deeper into counts, and managing at-bats consistently. Right now, off-speed pitches give him a lot of trouble. Middlebrooks has a tendency to over-pull the ball when he gets in a rut, but has the ability to drive balls the other way with authority when he keeps his front shoulder from flying open too soon and has his hands back in the hitting zone, driving through the ball. A consistent approach of looking up the middle and to the right-center field gap will allow Middlebrooks to take advantage of his exceptional bat speed and let his natural power take over on pitches in the middle-to-inside third of the plate. At times, he can rush his footwork in the field, which leads to wild throws, but he’s been getting better at bringing the game to him in general.

2010 Outlook: With a strong camp, Middlebrooks should be able to earn himself a spot manning the hot corner for the Salem Red Sox out of the gate in 2010. A placement in High-A will be a good challenge for him and test the improvements he made with his patience during the 2009 season. Getting off to a good start and limiting his adjustment period will go a long way towards allowing Middlebrooks to relax and let his skills continue to come to the surface. With another off-season of strength training under his belt, look for Middlebrooks to flash a little more home run power as the doubles start to carry over the wall with more frequency. When Middlebrooks is going well, expect him to hit line drives to all fields. Entering his third full year with the Red Sox organization and second playing full-season baseball, it’s clear what he has to work on and that he’s willing to put the work in to improve. Strong improvement with his approach and pitch recognition in 2010 could lead Middlebrooks to being one of those young hitters that experiences a breakout and propels himself up the ranks of the system, with a more clear focus of his potential arrival in seasons to come.