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Bernie On The Scene: Red Sox Future Third Baseman?

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.

The Boston Red Sox are loaded with talent. They are a franchise deep in position players hoping for a shot with the big league club. Patiently waiting his turn to play in the major leagues is third base prospect Will Middlebrooks, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound native of Texarkana, Texas.

Middlebrooks is an outstanding athlete. He graduated from Liberty Eylau High School in Texarkana. While in high school, Middlebrooks was a multi-sport athlete with a skill set that allowed him to excel in several sports. I contacted Middlebrooks' athletic director to get his perspective on Will's high school career. Here's what he wrote:

Mr. Pleskoff,
 
I'll just get going. First of all Will is one of the best athletes I have ever seen. Great basketball player in high school, with a nice shot and vertical jump. His skills on the football field were unbelievable. Quarterbacked a state championship team his senior year, semi-finalist his junior year. Kicked off and kicked x-pts and FG's all three years he was on varsity. Best punter I have ever seen. We still get coaches coming in saying if he gets tired of baseball he has a job punting. Will is also a good golfer. Again his athleticism and skill level are as good as anyone's. As far as the kind of person he is, you have to look no further than his parents. Good people who raised all three of their kids the right way. Will was also an excellent student in high school. His attitude, work ethic, and sportsmanship were all things that every young person should strive for. This may sound to good to be true, but these are the facts. Liberty-Eylau High School is proud of Will and all of his accomplishments.
 
Brian Brown
Athletic Director/Head Coach
Liberty-Eylau High School


That really tells us a great deal about Middlebrooks. He's an outstanding athlete and an outstanding person. Interestingly, Will's coach was his dad Tom. When Mr. Middlebrooks responded to me, he indicated the same qualities about Will. It's amazing that he didn't pursue a football career. He is said to have been an outstanding punter and receiver as well as a quarterback. Here is what Tom Middlebrooks said about his son and star player on his team:

Mr. Pleskoff,

Will enjoyed tremendous success while in HS. As a soph, he rotated at QB with another Sr, Matt Combs. This allowed him to grow as a QB. His Jr year, he QB'd us to the state Semi's and his Sr year we won the STATE Championship. He was also, according to the coaches I work with, the best Punter they have ever seen. He lead the state in avg, 47.9, his sr year. He also handled the Kick Off chores for us. As a baseball player, we won district his soph, jr, and sr. years. His Jr year we won the state Championship and made it back to the state finals his Sr year. Both years, he was voted the Texas Sports Writers Association Class 3A player of the year. We were fortunate to be around some good players in both football and baseball. LaMichael James, Oregon, was our TB in Football. Zach Fowler, Orioles farm system, was also one of the FB and Baseball players.

These are only accomplishments; I will send your email to my wife who can expand the information for you. If you need more, let me know.


Neither Mr. Brown nor Mr. Middlebrooks mentioned the fact that Will turned down a two-sport scholarship offer to play football and baseball at Texas A&M. Instead, he chose to make himself available for the 2007 first-year player draft. The Red Sox took Middlebrooks in the fifth round as the 174th overall selection. He received a $925,000 signing bonus.

One of Middlebrooks' best friends is New England Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett. Mallett and Middlebrooks are said to have been inseparable during their high school days. While they were great friends, Mallett went to the rival high school on the other side of town. Mallett has indicated that Middlebrooks was an outstanding quarterback, receiver and kicker. They remain close to this day. Mallett and Middlebrooks were grateful they could compete against each other rather than share time on the same high school team.

The Red Sox can take their time with the development of Middlebrooks as long as Kevin Youkilis stays healthy. But if his injuries continue, Middlebrooks may be among the best third-base option the team has for the future. They also have prospect Garin Cecchini, (drafted out of high school in 2010) but he is further away from the big leagues. If he does get a chance, Middlebrooks will bring his natural athletic ability to the plate. He has a prototypical, textbook third-base body and build. He has filled out a bit since signing his professional career.

Middlebrooks is a contact hitter with power. In fact, he began this season at Low-A Lowell where he had a total of 12 at-bats. He hit three homers and drove in six runs in those limited appearances. Since that time, he has played the season at Double-A Portland where his line was .302/18/80 with six stolen bases over 371 at-bats and at Triple-A Pawtucket where is line is 36 at bats, .167/0/1 with two stolen bases.

The raw power is there. He has a slightly open stance but his hands are quick through the ball. He has enough bat speed to take pitches to the entire field. Given Milddlebrooks' athletic background, it's no wonder he can get a bit aggressive at the plate. He isn't a wild swinger, but he doesn't get cheated, either. If I saw anything in his approach at the plate, it was a bit of vulnerability to inside pitches. His swing can tie him up a bit, but that's a minor issue. He'll also have to work on hitting breaking pitches down and away as he sees better quality pitching. That, too, is natural for young hitters.

Defensively, Middlebrooks is a solid third-base prospect. He has good first step quickness, he has a very strong arm (quarterbacking in high school didn't hurt that development) and his overall range and footwork are good. When I saw him in the Futures Game, he looked very comfortable at the position. Many people consider Middlebrooks to be an above average overall defender.

Interestingly, when Middlebrooks was promoted to Pawtucket this season, he went 0 for his first 11 at-bats. When teammates became concerned about his overall frame of mind, his response was, “don't worry. I know I can hit.” So far, however, he's scuffling a bit at Triple-A, but in the greater scheme of things, he's right. He can hit. He will hit when he gets more repetition and increased at-bats against quality pitching. His minor league totals look like this:

.274/41/235 with 31 stolen bases over four seasons of minor league ball.

He isn't cocky, but he's confident. He has an excellent chance of making the Red Sox after another season or perhaps a bit more of minor league baseball. It's likely he'll spend time at Pawtucket again next season and then be ready to assume a role with the big club should the need arise. Eventually, David Ortiz will vacate the designated hitter position. Who assumes that role? Perhaps Middlebrooks and Youkilis share the third-base position and also alternate at DH. It's certain, however, that Adrian Gonzalez is the first baseman of the future in Boston. That limits Youk's roles accordingly. And of course, there are ramifications for prospects like Middlebrooks. The same thing happened to Lars Anderson, the supposed first baseman of the future a couple of seasons ago. Anderson remained in the minor leagues in 2011 after watching the Red Sox acquire Gonzalez from San Diego during the offseason.

Given the Red Sox's depth, a player like Middlebrooks has tremendous value as a prospect only a phone call away from providing a big bat. They can also use him in a trade if need be. Regardless, he is a very good athlete with a chance to hit well in hitter-friendly Fenway Park. Like every prospect in my series, he needs the chance to prove himself. Keep him in mind.

Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff and on MLB.com in the Opinions section. As always, your comments and questions are welcomed.