May 9, 2011 at 7:57 AM
3B Will Middlebrooks
Date: May 6, 2011
Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Line: 3 for 4, 3 singles, 1 run scored, 3 runs batted, groundout
Swing: Hitting out of a slightly open stance, Middlebrooks utilizes a relatively compact swing that has been improving with its upward plane through the strike zone during the last couple of seasons. Possessing strong, quick wrists, he’s able to generate above-average batspeed to the point of contact and produces excellent backspin on the ball when he squares pitches up. Middlebrooks does a good job of leading with his hands to drive the head of the bat to fastballs on the outside corner and extends well on pitches in this area towards the middle of the plate. At times, he can yank and hook off-speed offerings in this spot when he opens up his hips a bit too early, but has gotten better with keeping his hands back to still hit them hard enough to find a hole. A hitter who likes to get his arms extended and who is able to drive balls middle-to-away with a lot of authority, Middlebrooks can struggles with inside fastballs due to him extending too early. This either causes him to get jammed and miss hitting the ball on the sweet spot of the bat or swing through the pitch because he can’t get the bat to the ball quickly enough. More work focusing on driving down with his hands to hit inside the baseball will allow him to close up this hole.
Power: Now 22 years of age and having experienced a good amount of physical development since signing with the organization, Middlebrook’s present power is starting to show signs that it is developing towards its plus potential. In addition to adding strength and physically maturing, he is using much more of his lower body in unison with his swing to create better hip rotation and also learning how to extend better post-contact to create more lift. Middlebrooks’ power plays well from the left field line into the right-center field gap and he should be able to show good opposite field power at the major league level. Even when he is slightly out in front of a pitch he still can drive the ball hard, and balls carry off his bat very well when he squares pitches up. How much his game power further develops will be tied into the cleanup work Middlebrooks can make on becoming more proficient driving inside offerings and make pitchers pay for working him in that area. If he can learn to turn more with his hips and let them lead the bat to the ball when attacking inside fastballs rather than trying to use his arms, his power is very capable of translating into 25 home runs at the big league level.
Take: Coming a long way since his early days as a Lowell Spinner in 2008, Middlebrooks has looked like a much more polished player during his time in Double-A thus far this season. While he’s lost some footspeed due to filling out and stiffening up a bit in his early-20s, he’s maintained a lot of his athleticism and become very solid in the field. On the cusp of being an above-average caliber defender in the major leagues, Middlebrooks’ quick first step, improving reads, and plus throwing arm serve him well defensively. Strong moving to his right, he can make tough plays on the line look routine and make off-balance throws to nab runners at first base due to his arm strength. He does have a tendency to play balls to his left off to the side, which decreases his range and coverage into the hole. Improvement with taking one more step and being comfortable either throwing on the run or setting his feet to throw if he has enough time should round him out to an above-average-to-better defender.
The first thing that jumps out about Middlebrooks offensively now is how much his approach has evolved. Rough and extremely raw in his early career, he had a very tough time picking up the spin out of pitchers’ hands and was a defensive hitter who ran into some fastballs rather than one who attacks. As his approach has come up to speed and he’s learned to be more selective, Middlebrooks has developed more of a plan at the plate and positive results have followed. There has been some clear progression towards turning his raw offensive tools into refined hitting skills. With the potential to become a fifth or sixth place hitter in a major league lineup, much of the projection hinges on how much he can improve with the aforementioned swing work. While he’s increased the zones with which he can drive offerings and recognizes offerings much quicker, further expansion of his hot zones to include balls on the inner third will be the difference between an average hitter and above-average hitter. Given his nature at the plate it can be expected that Middlebrooks will strikeout his fair share of times, but with an increase in the amount of balls he drives by working to keep himself from getting jammed and continuing to be mindful of using to the whole field he should be able to maintain enough of a batting average as he moves up to the next level of the Red Sox system and potentially beyond. Still pushing his development towards the final stages and proving he is ready to take the next step to Triple-A next season most likely, thus far with Portland Middlebrooks has been moving towards fulfilling his projection as an everyday third baseman down the line.