Sox Talk with Will Middlebrooks is a recurring content series on Middlebrooks, a former Red Sox player and NESN analyst, will give his insight and opinion on pertinent Red Sox storylines throughout the season. You can read the latest stories from the series here.

There were plenty of questions about Kutter Crawford and Tanner Houck being in the Boston Red Sox starting rotation at the start of the season.

Will Middlebrooks had them, too.

But Crawford and Houck have provided a resounding answer to any doubts about their place on the starting staff through the first month of the season. The two right-handers have been spectacular, which is why they were top of mind for Middlebrooks when selecting the Red Sox players who have impressed him most in the early going.

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“Between Kutter Crawford and Tanner Houck, I think (it’s) their evolution from trying to figure out are they a starting pitcher, are they swingman, long guy in the bullpen or just a regular mid-inning reliever,” Middlebrooks told “I think both of these guys have taken big steps forward this season.”

Crawford and Houck are the only two members of the starting staff who haven’t gone down with an injury yet this season, and they have been lights out on the mound.

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Crawford is third in MLB with a 1.35 ERA while Houck is not far behind with a 1.60 ERA, good for fifth-best in baseball. Houck certainly has gone to another level as he also has posted a 0.92 WHIP and an eye-popping 41-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

If Houck, who already has as many quality starts as he did all of last season, can keep this production up throughout the entire campaign, he will put himself in the Cy Young conversation.

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“He’s nasty in the zone and it’s been really special,” Middlebrooks said.

It isn’t just Boston’s top starting pitchers catching the eye of Middlebrooks. He also loves what he’s seen from a pair of outfielders in Tyler O’Neill and Wilyer Abreu.

Obtaining O’Neill this offseason from the St. Louis Cardinals for two minor league pitchers is proving to be a terrific move from Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow.

O’Neill entered Tuesday’s matchup with the San Francisco Giants tied for second in MLB with nine home runs even after missing six games due to a concussion. O’Neill, who notched the game-winning hit Sunday against the Chicago Cubs, is also batting .329 with 12 RBIs and a 1.176 OPS.

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“His ability to impact the game with one swing of the bat has been insane,” Middlebrooks said. “I thought it was like an (Adam) Duvall-type hot streak at the beginning of the year and then the injury happened, and I was thinking, ‘Not only is he missing a week, he’s also got a concussion, so I don’t know how he’s going to bounce back from this.’ And he’s maybe not been as hot, but he’s still been hot and still been really effective and a really good baseball player. And his defense has been really good as well.”

Abreu was a prime candidate for a breakout season, but he didn’t start off as strong as O’Neill — he went 2-for-18 at the plate with nine strikeouts through his first eight games. That’s all in the past for Abreu, though, with him catching fire at the plate and seemingly living up to his potential.

Abreu, who the Red Sox acquired two seasons ago in the deadline deal of Christian Vázquez, worked his way into being a key left-handed bat in the middle of the order. He had an eight-game streak of driving in at least one run come to an end Sunday and the 24-year-old batted .395 over his last nine games.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora would find it extremely tough taking Abreu out of the lineup now.

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“Spring training was bad for him. He was clearly working on stuff,” Middlebrooks said. “Beginning of the season he wasn’t getting consistent at-bats, wasn’t good. And then obviously the trickle-down effect of injuries forced (Cora) to play him everyday and thank God because this guy rakes. He’s one of those guys that needs to play everyday. Some guys aren’t built to be a bench bat.”

Featured image via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images