Will Middlebrooks Continues to Be One of Lone Bright Spots for Red Sox During Tumultuous Season

Will Middlebrooks Continues to Be One of Lone Bright Spots for Red Sox During Tumultuous SeasonIt is important, in a season of losses and letdowns, to be honest when dissecting said season.

In that case, at least up to this point, the 2012 season has not gone the way the Red Sox or the fans have wanted it to go. 

The reasons for that are abundantly clear. The team's two supposed "aces" — Josh Beckett and Jon Lester — have redefined the term "underachieving," and have for the most part, picked up right where they left off last September. Injuries have played a part, too, no doubt, but so has a general inconsistent level of play that has been maddening to say the least for the club and its fans.

They open a four-game set in Cleveland sitting two games under .500, their playoff hopes slipping away with each and every ugly pitching performance or no-show from the offense.

It hasn't been pretty all season, and because of that, we can probably assume that change, at least in some capacity, awaits this club following the season.

Aside from some sort of blockbuster trade that would ideally bring a marquee pitcher to Boston, we can assume that third baseman Will Middlebrooks will figure into the club's future plans.

Middlebrooks entered the season with plenty of high expectations. Those expectations, however, were expected to be fulfilled not under the bright lights of Boston during a "pennant race," but a few miles down 95 in Pawtucket.

The 23-year-old has admitted himself that he was unsure as to what the 2012 season would ultimately bring, but he has said that he'd be happy with just getting some time with the big club this season, even if it came in September.

It came much earlier than that, of course, thanks to the injury bug. When Kevin Youkilis was felled by that pesky bug that has made itself no stranger to the Red Sox clubhouse this season, it was Middlebrooks' time. 

The rest, as the cliche goes, is history. Middlebrooks has done nothing but perform since being called up to the bigs, and in the process he forced the club's hand. That's why Youkilis is now wearing a different-colored pair of socks, and Middlebrooks is the club's everyday third baseman.

Middlebrooks continues to deliver, too. He enters this weekend's series in Cleveland having played in 73 games since being called up. He's hit a solid .292 over that time, getting on base at a .327 clip and slugging .519 over that time.

His power numbers have been nothing short of very impressive, hitting 15 home runs and driving in 54 runs. If you average those out to a 162-game stretch, it would be good for 33 home runs and 120 RBIs. Of course, projecting numbers like that is far from an exact science, but it does provide some useful context.

The 15 home runs and 54 RBIs helps Middlebrooks blast his way into some pretty impressive company. The only other player in Red Sox history to total 15 home runs and 54 RBIs in his first 73 games during a single season was a guy by the name of Ted Williams

Middlebrooks, despite his impressive freshman campaign, won't win AL Rookie of the Year. There's a spot in Mike Trout's trophy case, or on his mantle or wherever he keeps his shiny trophies that say how awesome he is at baseball, being reserved for that trophy right now. But it's worth mentioning that in 16 fewer games this season, Trout has hit only five more home runs and driven in just six more runs. Trout is the Rookie of the Year (he may even be the MVP, too), but Middlebrooks has nothing to be ashamed of in that regard.

The signs of improvement are there for Middlebrooks. He has, for the most part, avoided any sort of rookie season swoon, a slump that usually comes during a rookie's second or third time through a league. Middlebrooks has gone hitless in just 21 of his 68 starts, and he's also started to show progress in terms of plate discipline. He swings at everything, and while his 13 walks in 278 plate appearances isn't exactly impressive, he does have four walks since July 28, perhaps proof that he's starting to see the ball better and understand plate discipline in the big leagues a little bit more.

Finally, Middlebrooks continues to be a rock defensively. There aren't many balls that he doesn't get to, and he rarely makes a careless error. He continues to show a good feel for the position, and he makes all of the simple plays simple. When called upon to make a difficult play, he's show the ability to move to both sides rather well, and it has really been impressive as to how well he's able to barehand and throw out runners on slow dribblers down the line.

Perhaps most impressively has been the poise with which he's handled himself this season. He's had a flare for the dramatic all season — from belting a game-tying grand slam for his first career home run to a pair of late-inning home runs this week against the Rangers. Add it all up, and you've got the makings of a young player who's not afraid of his surroundings.

In a season of beatdowns and bummers, the young third baseman from the Lone Star State has been one of the club's lone bright spots. That might not mean much now, silver linings dont win World Series titles, but it's worth mentioning that it looks like the Sox have themselves a franchise cornerstone at the hot corner in Will Middlebrooks.

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