In 2012, the then 23-year-old Will Middlebrooks was the biggest baseball story in Boston.
Middlebrooks started the 2012 season at Triple-A Pawtucket while Kevin Youkilis opened the season at third base for the Red Sox. After Youkilis went on the disabled list, the power-hitting third baseman earned his call to the show on May 2nd after batting .333/.380/.677 with 9 homers and 27 RBI’s in 100 plate appearances.
Through his first 41 career MLB games, Middlebrooks had a slashline of .326/.365/.583 and 9 home runs to go along with 34 RBIs – the most RBIs to start a career with the Red Sox since Walt Dropo had 37 RBIs going back to 1949-1950.
When Youkilis came off the disabled list, the Red Sox elected not to option Middlebrooks back to Triple-A, as former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine alternated the playing time between Youkilis and Middlebrooks at the hot corner up until June 23rd, when the Red Sox traded Youkilis to the White Sox.
On August 10th, Middlebrooks was hit by a 95 MPH fastball on his right wrist that ended up breaking three different bones and ending his 201 season. For comparison, Middlebrooks finished the year batting .288/.325/.509 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs, while Youkilis batted .235/.336/.409 with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs.
2013 was a different story for Middlebrooks than 2012. He was ready for the 2013 season after completing his recovery from the three broken bones, and on April 7th, Middlebrooks hit three homers in Boston’s 13-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. Two of those homers came off knuckleballer R.A. Dickey:
In May, Middlebrooks lost playing time to José Iglesias after suffering a back injury. Boston later optioned Middlebrooks to Triple-A on June 25. Middlebrooks was batting just .192/.228/.389 with 9 home runs and 25 RBIs prior to his demotion.
Middlebrooks was in the Minors until August 10th. He finished the 2013 campaign rather strong, however, as he batted .283/.338/.476 with 8 home runs and 24 RBI’s in the final two months of the season.
The 2014 season brought more injuries and more struggles for Middlebrooks despite his strong ending to the 2013 season. Middlebrooks missed 19 games in April due to a calf strain, and then he broke a finger in May. When he returned from the disabled list, he began to play the outfield due to Boston’s signing of infielder Stephen Drew.
Boston eventually traded Drew away, hoping that Middlebrooks could bounce back. Middlebrooks was un-able to succeed in bouncing back, and he finished 2014 batting .191/.256/.265 with 2 home runs and 19 RBI’s in 234 plate appearances.
During the 2014 off-season, the Red Sox decided to move on from Middlebrooks by signing Pablo Sandoval to a five-year, $95 million deal. The same day Sandoval signed, the Red Sox traded Middlebrooks to the Padres for Ryan Hanigan.
During 2015 spring training, Middlebrooks found himself competing for San Diego’s starting third base job with Yangervis Solarte. Middlebrooks ended up winning the starting gig at third base, but was eventually moved over to shortstop so that Solarte could get playing time at third.
On July 22nd, the Padres optioned Middlebrooks to Triple-A El Paso. For El Paso, Middlebrooks batted .255/.287/379 with 4 home runs and 19 runs batted in. The Padres decided to part ways with Middlebrooks following the 2015 season by non-tendering him on December 2nd, making him a free agent.
13 days later, the Milwaukee Brewers signed Middlebrooks to a minor league level contract that contained an inviting to spring training. Milwaukee ended up assigning Middlebrooks to Triple-A Colorado Springs to start the season, and with the help of Colorado’s hitting coach Bob Skube and manager Rick Sweet, Middlebrooks was able to find a new swing.
“My whole life, I hit the same,” Middlebrooks said to MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. “I had a lot of bat speed, so I could get away with a lot of flaws in my swing. [When] you break three bones in your wrist, you lose a little bit of that — and it was my top hand.
After batting .167/.195/.273 with 3 home runs and 14 RBI’s in April and May, Middlebrooks batted .351/.367/.676 with 7 home runs and 29 RBI’s in June and then went 4-for-5 in July prior to being called up to the Brewers to get another chance in the bigs.
Four days after Middlebrooks’ call up, the Brewers traded away their starting third baseman Aaron Hill to the Boston Red Sox, in-exchange for Wendell Rijo and Aaron Wilkerson, opening up a window for Middlebrooks to get more playing time along with Hernan Perez and Jake Elmore.
Middlebrooks is just 3-for-18 with one run batted in so far in six games for the Brewers, but if his minor league numbers are any indication, Middlebrooks can eventually get it going.
Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections had Middlebrooks batting .237/.275/.407 with 17 home runs and 56 RBI’s in 437 plate appearances, which would be his best season since his rookie season in 2012.
Middlebrooks has a chance to prove he belongs in the show again, and it should be interesting to see whether or not he takes advantage.
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