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SoxProspects News

March 25, 2011 at 7:56 AM

2011 Prospect Previews: Oscar Tejeda and Will Middlebrooks

Today's installment of the series takes an in-depth look at two of the rising position player prospects within the Red Sox system slated to continue their development in Double-A this coming season.

Oscar Tejeda
Position: Second Base
2010 Team: Salem Red Sox
2011 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 21

Strengths: Making strong strides offensively this past season, Tejeda cleaned up his hitting mechanics to improve the quickness of his load and keep himself balanced at the plate during his stride. Possessing exceptional batspeed and a whip-like swing, he’s much more fluid bringing the head of the bat through the hitting zone to consistently square offerings up with authority than he was earlier in his career. With quick and explosive wrists, Tejeda clears out inside pitches well and has improved with how he hits to the opposite field, driving the head of the bat to balls on the outside corner rather than looping around them. His improved balance has reduced the instances of him pulling his head off the ball and yanking the head of the bat to the point of contact. Always capable of hitting higher velocity fastballs, his crisper mechanics have further brought this trait along and allowed him to constantly get good wood on the ball to produce hard line drives. Previously lanky and lean, Tejeda has experienced big physical gains in the last couple of seasons that have enhanced his present power and project him to hit for solid-average-to-better power with continued refinement. Switching over to second base last season, he’s come up to speed quickly with the change in positions and demonstrates positive attributes defensively, highlighted by his plus arm and solid reactions to balls hit his way. Age-advanced at every stop in the Red Sox system, Tejeda has handled himself well during his career and is now starting to experience his physical development meshing together with the polishing of his initially raw tools.

Development Needs: Approaching the upper levels of the organization, Tejeda is going to experience much sharper secondary offerings and improved ability to spot up on corners of the plate by opposing pitchers. Improving with his selectiveness and discipline in recent seasons, his near-term work will focus on taking this aspect of his offensive game to the next level and continuing the trend against advanced competition. An aggressive hitter, Tejeda can over-expand his strike zone and chase breaking balls diving into the dirt. Improvement with learning his strike zone and further working to attack ideal offerings will be a key need to make the type of consistent, hard contact displayed in lower levels. Better with keeping his hands back during his stride and tracking pitches as they approach home plate, continuing to be mindful of keeping his weight in unison with his hands will allow him to keep his swing fluid and produce solid contact as he adjusts to the initial jump up a level. Becoming stiffer as he physically develops, it remains to be seen as to whether Tejeda can stick in the infield as he continues to mature. While showing good range and soft hands, he’s still rough at second base and his defensive game has some improvement in front of it to become major league caliber. At times, he can struggle with his technique and needlessly rush plays leading to unforced errors. A move to leftfield down the line may not be out of the question as he gets closer to being ready for the major leagues.

2011 Outlook: After putting together a good season with Salem and seeing his work polishing his skills start to translate into game action, Tejeda is set to break camp with Double-A to start the season. Looking very comfortable in the batter’s box and on the ball during Spring Training games, he’ll work to carry it over during his initial adjustment to the Eastern League. Some time to adjust should be expected, but once Tejeda gets going strong results have a good chance to show in the form of solid contact rates and high extra-base totals as the season moves along. A good sign that he is becoming more selective at the plate and making strides in this area will be an uptick in his walk totals, which should drive his strikeout rates down or at least keep them level. Experiencing a jump in his home run totals in 2010, Tejeda can produce similar numbers this season and display that his power is cresting as his offensive game continues to mature. A good example of how young hitters can make big strides when starting to put things together, 2011 is a season for him to prove he’s continuing his rise as one of the top position players in the Red Sox system and that his initial breakout last season is carrying into the upper ranks of the organization, bringing his projection as a major league bat on the horizon closer to coming to fruition.

Will Middlebrooks
Position: Third Base
2010 Team: Salem Red Sox
2011 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 22

Strengths: A developing hitter, Middlebrooks has come a long way from his early career to take steps at polishing his hitting tools into those of a complete hitter. Struggling considerably with his pitch recognition in the past, he has made strides with how he picks up secondary offerings out of opposing pitcher’s hands and keeps himself from lunging at balls breaking across the strike zone in the dirt. His work with relaxing himself at the plate and effort to become conscientious of the strike zone has jumped out during his development stages. Featuring excellent batspeed and a more compact swing, Middlebrooks is capable of exploding to the point of contact and producing very good backspin on his line drives. At his best when he is looking up the middle and letting his hands react to offerings on the inside third, he’s able to drive balls to all fields and hit from gap-to-gap with power. Possessing plus raw power and a filling out lower base, Middlebrooks has high home run potential as he continues to hone his selectiveness and use his hips more to drive the ball during his swing. A former shortstop and moving over to third base once signing with the Red Sox organization, his defensive game at the hot corner has rapidly been developing towards that of an above-average defender. With a quick first step and excellent reactions, he covers good ground and has become very steady after learning to play the proper angles at the position. His defensive prowess is accented by a plus throwing arm that is one of the best, if not the best, in the system.

Development Needs: While Middlebrooks has made good strides with building a professional approach and coming up to speed with recognizing advanced pitching, he still has some ways to go make this a key strength for him. He can fall into ruts of chasing breaking balls or getting caught in-between pitches, which leads to inconsistency. Not projecting as a high batting average player or one who is going to draw a ton of walks, it will be necessary for Middlebrooks to cut down on his strikeouts and increase the amount of contact he makes to reach his offensive potential. Some of his instances of swings and misses are directly related to his improvement needs with pitch recognition and tightening selectivity, which should naturally progress as he continues to gain experience. He’s been closing up his hole on the inner third of the plate against higher velocity fastballs and getting beat less in this area as he over-compensates less for secondary stuff, especially later in the count. At times though, Middlebrooks can dip his back shoulder too much and loop under fastballs on the inner third, either swinging under them or jamming himself. Continued focus on driving his hands to the point of contact to get the sweet spot of the barrel on the ball and allow his natural batspeed to clean out offerings here will make this area more of a hot zone for him. With a level swing through the hitting plane, work adding some lift and extending after the point of contact can see him tap fully into his above-average power potential to produce home runs with more frequency in games.

2011 Outlook: Middlebrooks experienced some ups and downs offensively with Salem in 2011, but made some good progress towards putting his overall game together, which has him slated to begin a good challenge in Portland this coming season. Maturing and gaining an understanding for what it takes to grind out at-bats, his approach will be pushed in the early going in the Eastern League and he’ll have some adjustments to make against the more experienced pitching. Trusting his skills and staying relaxed are keys for Middlebrooks to get over the initial hump and begin to flash that type of results he put up for stretches this past season. Once settled in and more comfortable as the summer months approach, good signs that he is improving his selectivity and picking up secondary offerings should show with rising contact rates, followed by a spike in his extra-base numbers. A good tell that he’s staying back and beginning an upward trend is that he’s driving the ball to all fields with authority. Unlikely to experience a huge breakout with home runs at this juncture, Middlebrooks is capable of displaying around average power. Rising home run totals over the course of the season is a positive sign that he is further learning how to tap into his raw power. 2011 is a season for him to prove he’s pushing his development further in the upper minors and solidifying himself within the Red Sox organization as a position player on the rise. With a strong defensive game and continuing to hone his craft at the plate, by the end of the season Middlebrooks can put himself in position to be trending towards fulfilling his potential as an everyday major leaguer down the line.