PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Red Sox prospect Will Middlebrooks didn’t blow anyone away during his 16-game stint with the PawSox last season.
But on Thursday night, the 23-year-old third baseman made sure to silent any doubters — at least for the time being — with his three-hit performance in Pawtucket’s season opener against the Buffalo Bisons at McCoy Stadium.
“He had a good night tonight, it was nice to see him get off to a good start,” Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler said after the game, a 4-2 win. “I know he’s had a good spring. He’s hit the ball well and made a real 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.”
Middlebrooks had a hit in each of his first three plate appearances en route to a 3-for-4 evening.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound third baseman flashed opposite-field power in his first two at-bats, scorching the ball to the right-center field gap for a double in the second inning before hitting one down the right-field line in the fourth.
“That’s my swing, man,” Middlebrooks said after the game of his opposite-field hits. “Middle of the field, the right side is really good for me. When I’m hittin’ the ball there, I’m seeing it really well.”
That was rarely the case, however, during his brief stint in Triple-A last season.
After batting .302 with 18 homers and 80 RBIs in 96 games at Double-A Portland, Middlebrooks was awarded a late-season call-up to Pawtucket — where he scuffled to a .161 average in 16 games while striking out 18 times.
Beyeler said the reason for Middlebrooks’ struggles were simply because “he was tired,” but the third baseman quickly dismissed that as being the main cause.
“At that point in the year I’m sure everyone is [tired], so it’s not really an excuse,” he said. “That’s something you train for all offseason, and it’s something I worked on, just keep my body healthy.”
Following the 2011 season, Middlebrooks made a trip to Scottsdale, Ariz., to participate in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .250 and blasted four home runs in 13 games. He then spent most of spring training in big league camp before getting assigned to Pawtucket on March 16.
Middlebrooks, a former fifth-round pick out of high school in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft, is entering his fifth professional season with the Red Sox. Considered the organization’s top prospect by Baseball America and SoxProspects.com, the third baseman is now just an injury or two away from earning a big league call-up.
When asked about what it’s like to be this close to the majors, Middlebrooks said, “It’s awesome. They always say, ‘Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about,’ but you’re gonna think about it. You’re right here and that’s — we come here to work every day so we can get to that level.”
For now, though, he said his focus is on being consistent and “just kind of keep up what I’m doing.”
So far, so good on that front.
“I came in here with a sense of urgency, and I really didn’t want to wait to get things going,” Middlebrooks. “I just wanted to really focus as hard as I could to get good pitches to hit.
“It’s really good to get off to a good start, it just kind of sets the tone for the season,” he added. “So I just want to get off on the right foot.”