Middlebrooks: Hot prospect on hot corner

February, 26, 2012
2/26/12
5:46
PM ET
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- On one of the many back fields Sunday morning at the Red Sox’s spring training facility, a pair of third basemen took fungoes and talked about the position.

Veteran Kevin Youkilis is the current keeper of the hot corner for the Red Sox, but prospect Will Middlebrooks isn’t far behind.

Middlebrooks, who is 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, arrived at camp three weeks early to get a jumpstart on the 2012 season.

[+] EnlargeWill Middlebrooks
Elsa/Getty ImagesWill Middlebrooks came to camp early to learn as much as he could from veterans such as Kevin Youkilis.
“I’m trying to be a sponge and soak up the veteran core group that’s here and ask as many questions as I can,” Middlebrooks said.

He’s a plus defender with raw power who gained a lot of attention from other clubs at the trade deadline last July.

The 23-year-old infielder made tremendous strides and honed his skills in 2011. He began the season at Double-A Portland, where he hit .302 in 96 games with 25 doubles, one triple, 18 homers and 80 RBIs. He was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket on Aug. 19 and finished the season with a .161 average (9-for-56), including two homers and eight RBIs in only 16 games for the PawSox.

“It’s a confidence builder,” Middlebrooks said of last season. “At some point in your career, you ask yourself, ‘Am I able to do this? Am I a big leaguer?’ Years like last year definitely build that confidence and make you push even harder to where you want to be.”

Middlebrooks played in the Arizona Fall League during the offseason and was added to the Red Sox’s 40-man roster in November.

While Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine was watching pitcher Andrew Miller throw a live BP session, Middlebrooks was done with this infield practice and was standing in the dugout. Valentine turned around, saw Middlebrooks standing there, and told the prospect to grab a bat and jump in there.

“My early impressions, he is as advertized,” Valentine said. “He’s a fine, young guy who loves the game, who needs a little work on getting caught in between on ground balls, but he has a great work ethic where he’ll be able to overcome that easily.”

Valentine added that he wants to talk with Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan about Middlebrooks’ swing.

“I’ve only seen him during live batting practice, but his approach, his strength and the mechanics of his swing seem to be fine,” Valentine said.

Last season Youkilis said he hopes Middlebrooks is the guy to someday replace him at third base in Boston. When the prospect heard that, it served as motivation.

“That means more than I can even explain,” Middlebrooks said on Sunday. “He’s one of the best that’s ever played the game, in my opinion. He plays it the right way. He plays hard and for a guy to speak that highly of me means a lot. I’m going to pick his brain while I’m here.”

At this point of Middlebrooks' development, it’s unfair to compare his potential to what Youkilis has accomplished. According to a National League scout, Middlebrooks doesn’t draw walks or control the strike zone like Youkilis does. However, the scout added, Middlebrooks is better defensively and sports a cannon of an arm.

He's been showing off those skills the last few weeks at the player development complex, and if he can build on last season, there’s a strong possibility he’ll someday call third base at Fenway Park his office.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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