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April 6, 2012 at 3:42 PM

Middlebrooks shines in PawSox opener

Will Middlebrooks (Kelly O'Connor)
PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Will Middlebrooks tore through the Eastern League last season with the Portland Sea Dogs to the tune of 18 home runs and a .302 batting average in 96 games, rising to the top of the SoxProspects.com prospect list. However, he was not so successful after a late-season promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he batted just .161 in 16 games.

Middlebrooks wasted no time in putting memories of the end of last season behind him on Opening Night for Pawtucket, picking up three hits in his four trips to the plate.

"It's really good to get off to a good start because it sets the tone for your season,” Middlebrooks said. “I wanted to get off on the right foot. I came in here with a sense of urgency. I really didn't want to wait to get things going. I wanted to really focus as hard as I could and get some good pitches to hit.”

PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler attributed some of his struggles last season to being tired at the end of a grueling season.

“He came up here last year and struggled a little bit,” Beyeler said. “But then he went out in the Fall League and played real well. But you know, he had a good night tonight. It was nice to see him get off to a good start.”

Though Middlebrooks was not pleased with his struggles after the promotion, he was happy to get that transition period out of the way. "Being able to come here and already be comfortable and not have to get used to everything is huge," he said.

In his first two times stepping into the batter's box this season, the 23-year-old lined doubles to the opposite field. As far as Middlebrooks is concerned, that's exactly where he wants to be hitting the ball every time he gets up.

"That's my swing, man—middle of the field and to the right side is really good for me,” Middlebrooks said. “When I'm hitting the ball there, I'm seeing it really well."

"He does have power to all fields, and it's easy power,” said Beyeler. “He's dangerous to a pitcher. They've got to use the whole plate to beat him, and he can use the whole field in defense."

His above-average defensive ability and strong throwing arm were also on display on Opening Night, as he made a couple nice plays down at the hot corner. Just another reason he profiles as a future starter for the Red Sox.

Beyeler highlighted one of his plays in the field, saying, “He made a nice play there late in the game, played good defense tonight. He's a well-rounded player, you got to see a little bit of what he brings to the table tonight, he drove the ball to all fields and had a nice night.”

For now, the plan is for Middlebrooks to spend the season at the Triple-A level with a call-up likely in September. However, an injury or two at the big league level could easily expedite that timetable. Being so close to the majors is a blessing and a curse for these players, as Middlebrooks detailed.

“I mean they say, 'don't think about it, don't think about it,' but you're going to think about it,” Middlebrooks said. “You're right here and that's why we come here every day to work so we can get to that level.”

For now, the top prospect will do his best to build upon his Opening Night success.

Matt Huegel is Senior Editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.