Gary DiSarcina has watched Will Middlebrooks grow since the Boston Red Sox selected the third baseman in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. DiSarcina is optimistic about the young slugger’s future.
DiSarcina, who was hired as the Los Angeles Angels’ third base coach earlier this offseason, has seen a lot of Middlebrooks, having managed him at Single-A Lowell and Triple-A Pawtucket in the Red Sox’ system. The former minor league skipper said last week on WEEI’s Hot Stove Show that he thinks Middlebrooks still needs to improve in a number of areas, but the 25-year-old has the potential to be an impactful major leaguer.
“I think for Will, it’s easy to sit here and say he’s got to cut down on the strikeouts, he’s got to swing at strikes,” DiSarcina said Thursday. “I don’t look at it so much as that. I just look at it as, he’s got to get his pitch to hit and not miss it. The times that I did see him in Pawtucket, he’d foul stuff straight back, he’d miss hanging sliders, he’d miss a changeup up. I didn’t see him up in that time when Bobby Valentine was managing and [Middlebrooks] was up [in the big leagues] and on fire, but I heard the stories about how he was in Pawtucket before he went up there and how he was when he was there, not missing mistakes.”
Middlebrooks burst onto the scene in 2012, hitting .288 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs in 75 games before a broken wrist cut short his promising rookie campaign. Middlebrooks then struggled in 2013 despite high expectations, resulting in a midseason demotion to Triple-A, where DiSarcina got a good look at the third baseman.
“I think that for Will, it gets back to, the minute that he gets to the ballpark, his mind has to be focused on what he’s doing that day — his routine at the cage, his batting practice routine, his infield routine,” DiSarcina said. “When Will gets routine-oriented, he’s a force to be reckoned with. He stays within himself at the plate. When he steps in the batter’s box, from being in Pawtucket down in the third base coaching box, he looks like a big leaguer. That’s what they’re supposed to look like. That’s what Troy Glaus looked like.”
Middlebrooks eventually made his way back to the majors in August and initially showed improvement offensively. Middlebrooks later fell back into some old habits at the plate, though, and he eventually was replaced at third base by 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts during the Red Sox’ postseason run.
It’s likely that Middlebrooks will be Boston’s everyday third baseman to begin the 2014 season, with Bogaerts becoming the starting shortstop if Stephen Drew signs elsewhere in free agency. DiSarcina said last week that he would like to see Middlebrooks show up to spring training with his focus on winning a job, though, as the big Texan is a better player when he has a chip on his shoulder.
“Will has the potential to be an impact right-handed bat. With [Red Sox third base coach] Brian Butterfield working with him defensively and helping him progress at the major league level last year, he’s made some strides. He still has to get better,” DiSarcina said. “I think the one thing for Will that I wish he did last year and I hope he does this year is that he comes into spring training and he comes in to win a job. He has nothing handed to him. He comes in to just win a job, because I think that’s when you get the best Will Middlebrooks. That’s when he’ll play his best, he’ll be aggressive, he’ll be smart — all those good things you look for in a ballplayer. Don’t come in and be entitled. Come in and win a job and keep a job.”
There’s undoubtedly a lot of potential on the left side of the Red Sox’ infield, and Middlebrooks’ continued development could go a long way toward determining the potency of Boston’s offense in 2014.