May 5, 2010 at 10:33 AM
3B Will Middlebrooks
The Line: Out of the gate strong to start 2010, Middlebrooks has put together a .359/.444/.538 line in his first 78 at-bats in High-A. He has been even stronger in his last 10 games, posting a .998 OPS, with 3 doubles and 2 home runs. Producing excellent contact, he’s only struck out 5 times in his last 36 at-bats and is currently riding an eight-game hitting streak, while picking up hits in nine of his last ten games. Middlebrooks went 4 for 4 with 2 runs batted in against Lynchburg on April 21 and knocked 3 hits on April 24 against Frederick, driving in 2 more runs in the process. Middlebrooks launched his first two home runs of the season on April 25-26. His .983 OPS has him in the Top 5 of the Carolina League.
The View: Middlebrooks has gotten off to very slow starts the previous two seasons, but finished both strong to show flashes of the type of hitter he can become. This season, he’s been able to get adjusted much more quickly, and the early results have been very promising. The talent and skills have always been there for Middlebrooks, but he has had a tougher time translating them into game action on a consistent basis. He previously struggled considerably with his pitch recognition and settling into a selective approach, which hindered his natural reactions and plus bat speed when attacking pitches. Most importantly, he’s been able to cut his strikeouts down in the early going in 2010, and consistent, solid contact has followed. Profiling as a bat with above-average power, the home runs have not yet been there for Middlebrooks, but the latest strides with his approach and discipline lend clues that it is on the verge of taking off; he has produced his fair share of doubles in his career so far. One area where he can struggle is with hard stuff on the inside corner, as those offerings have given him trouble during stretches in the past. As Middlebrooks has improved his pitch recognition, he’s been able to eliminate this hole, but it bears watching as he sees more advanced pitching up the chain of the Red Sox organization. We should also look for continued improvements against off-speed pitches. Drafted back in 2007 with projections as a middle-of-the-order right-handed bat, Middlebrooks has begun to show strong signs of making steps forward into rounding out the rough edges of his offensive game. The hot start has been very encouraging as a validation of the improvements he has been making, and the next step will be continuing to bring that consistent approach to at-bats, with the goal of stringing together multiple months of positive results during the 2010 season.
RHP Kendal Volz
The Line: Showing pinpoint control with Greenville, Volz has now gone 23.0 innings without issuing a walk, while striking out 17 and only allowing 7 earned runs during the stretch. Coming out of the bullpen as a piggyback starter in his first 2 appearances of the season, he’s started his last 3 outings and gone 5.0 innings in each one of them. He shutout Lexington in his first official start on April 19, allowing 4 hits and striking out 2. Volz fired his best game of the season to date on April 30 against West Virginia, holding the Power to 1 hit and fanning 6 batters to pick up his third win of the season.
The View: The Red Sox have been bringing Volz along as a starter thus far with the idea of stretching him out and allowing him to sharpen his arsenal, which regressed a bit during his junior season at Baylor University. Scouts projected Volz in more of a bullpen role down the line after the success he showed as a closer with Team USA and due to his max-effort delivery. Thus far, Volz has been able to pound the strike zone with his 89-92 MPH fastball and use his low-80s slider later in the count to finish batters off. His change-up is currently a below-average offering, but has shown the potential to make some strides if he can get more feel and consistent arm speed with it. Impressing with the control and command of his fastball, Volz can move his heater to both sides of the plate, and shows better finish with the pitch when it is down in the zone. Hitters can do some damage against his fastball when it is elevated, as it isn’t overpowering when he is pitching in a starter’s role. He’s shown the ability to reach back closer to the mid-90s in a relief role in the past. Batters have been able to make contact against Volz at this level, but he’s been good at limiting the solid contact and keeping the ball in the park. Volz is currently working to sharpen his arsenal and develop his change-up as a third pitch. Coming from the college ranks, he should be able to continue to put up good results in the South Atlantic League, and his repertoire could go relatively unchallenged until he is another level up the chain. Down the line, Volz most likely projects in the bullpen, where his fastball projects as plus and his slider as a potential wipeout pitch, but for the time being he is showing the ability to handle a starter’s workload.
PawSox outfielder Daniel Nava has started to hit his stride in Triple-A after struggling a bit out of the gate. The switch-hitter has posted 7 walks against 5 strikeouts in his last 10 games and belted 3 home runs during the stretch, including a two-home-run performance with long balls hit from each side of the plate on April 30. Nava, who’s story has been one of the more intriguing ones in the minor leagues, has now pushed his season OPS to .873 and continues to show off his hitting skills at each level he is placed...Left-handed pitcher Mitch Herold has been a mystery for Carolina League hitters thus far in 2010, as opponents have only hit .098 against the reliever. He’s been shutting lineups down, allowing only 1 earned run in 16.1 innings and issuing just one free pass…After hitting 4 home runs in the past two seasons with Lowell, Greenville outfielder Ronald Bermudez has hit 4 home runs in just 66 at-bats this year. Added to the roster from extended spring training as an injury replacement, Bermudez has made the most of his opportunity and has put together his best stretch of consistent, hard contact since coming to the United States after two seasons in the Dominican Summer League.
Alex Hassan hasn’t been able to transfer his impressive stroke from spring training as of yet in High-A. The right-handed hitting outfielder is 6 for his last 33 and has only generated 3 extra-base hits on the season. Hassan showed some power potential down in Fort Myers, but his swing is a bit long, and advanced pitching has thus far been able to keep him off-balance to produce a lot of weak contact…Jeremy Hazelbaker has piled up 21 strikeouts in 58 at-bats and is still trying to make some adjustments against professional pitching. Running at will when he gets on base, Hazelbaker has swiped 12 bags in just 17 games, but the rest of his offensive game has yet to click…Returning to the system after being plucked in the Rule V Draft this off-season, third baseman Jorge Jimenez is just 18 for 86 with 4 extra-base hits for Pawtucket. Jimenez has struggled considerable with left-handed pitching in Triple-A, hitting only .125 against south-paws. While not striking out much, he hasn’t been able to square a lot of balls up and is making a lot of outs via weak contact, like choppers or pop-outs.