Will Middlebrooks smashed two home runs on Monday night, powering the Red Sox to a win over the Kansas City Royals. The Texas native won’t turn 24-years old until September of this year. He plays third base, a position that is bereft of talent around baseball. Middlebrooks is a major cog in the future of the Boston Red Sox. The question now becomes–when is the future?
In four games in the bigs, Middlebrooks has gone bridge (hat tip to HOF’er Dennis Eckersley) three times. He has collected eight hits in 22 at-bats and shown the ability to drive the ball to all fields. Middlebrooks was on a tear in Triple-A Pawtucket, and he certainly has not let a promotion derail him.
Based on his performance, it seems as though Middlebrooks punched a one-way ticket when he took the trip from Rhode Island to the Hub.
But not so fast.
Kevin Youkilis will be back this season. He is making $12MM in 2012, and when he is right, Youk changes the dynamic of this lineup. Believe it or not, the Red Sox offense misses the scrappy right handed hitter. He grinds out at-bats and provides stability to a middle of an order that relies heavily on production from lefties David Ortiz and the recently-maligned Adrian Gonzalez.
Youkilis, if healthy, will not be supplanted by Middlebrooks. That is a simple fact.
The Red Sox, like most organizations, seek value in almost everything they do–whether they’re successful or not is a different story for a different day. Nevertheless, a healthy Youkilis playing third base in Boston while Middlebrooks continues to get at-bats and become more selective at the plate in Pawtucket is likely ideal for this team.
Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. Good stories often result from no-name guys or future stars who put together good bursts at different points during the long season. Sprinters are applauded, but the proven players who can finish the marathon are the ones who generally succeed over the course of what amounts to an extremely long summer. Look, Middlebrooks has been white hot since his arrival to Boston, but it’s been four games. Four. Teams at this level adapt to a new face. Once there is a bit of a thicker book on Middlebrooks, pitchers will expose weaknesses. It’s bound to happen. It is the quality hitters who adjust to the adjustments. And Youkilis has shown that he has the ability to do that year in and year out. In no way is this an indictment against Middlebrooks. He is a fantastic talent who surely will evolve into an excellent major leaguer.
Maybe this problem works itself out. Maybe Youkilis never gets fully healthy. Maybe he is traded. Maybe the Red Sox find a way to keep both Youkilis and Middlebrooks in the lineup. It’s impossible to predict those scenarios. But all things even, I’m taking Youkilis. He is the one who has already evolved into that aforementioned ‘excellent major leaguer’.
Picture this: It’s the middle of September, and the Red Sox are one game out of the second and final Wild Card spot. They’re in Tampa Bay. Top of the ninth, down one, with runners on second and third. Who would you rather have up–Youkilis or Middlebrooks?
Think about it.