Hey, it's this photo again! (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
It's been a torrid start to the year for Will Middlebrooks, who holds a 1.221 OPS through 20 games of the season down in Pawtucket. His nine homers are second only to the 13 held by Brad Eldred, some eight years his senior, and he has seen improvements in both his strikeout and walk rate through his first 77 at bats.
This hot streak has not gone unnoticed by prospecting authorities Baseball America, who have placed Will Middlebrooks at the very top of their weekly Hot Sheet. Ironically, it hasn't even been as good a week for WIll as his last, which landed him in fifth place (five spots ahead of our own Matt Barnes). While the folks over at BA were content to simply remark that his homers were a "good sign" last week, the #1 spot gets expanded coverage, leading to this:
This year, we may be seeing him make the jump from top prospect to an elite one. He has excellent bat speed with a swing that produces both loft and backspin. At the rate he's going, he could reach double digits for home runs by the end of April. He hit a career-high 23 last year.
Middlebrook's early hot streak comes with no caveats. He's hitting nearly equally well against lefthanders and righthanders, and his home/road splits are close to identical as well. The below-average runner is even 3-for-3 on steals this month.
It's about as ringing an endorsement as you can receive for two weeks of work, and good news for Sox fans who have been starving for another exciting call-up from the minors (though Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard are doing their best to satisfy that need as starters).
But for those who are still clamoring for Middlebrooks to make the jump even after Youkilis' big night Wednesday, consider this: Will Middlebrooks has all of 77 good at bats in Triple-A. By calling him up now, the team would not only start his clock a full year early (not to mention risk Super-Two status), but have to sacrifice the cost of a potentially productive Kevin Youkilis to do so. Even if he's not exactly killing it right now, we all know what Youk can be, and with signs of life just starting to shine through, now is not the time to give up.
If Middlebrooks is still mashing and Youkilis is not effectively out of his slump by, say, June, then it might be time to consider the promotion. Even if he should struggle at first against major league pitching, there's not much question that Middlebrooks is a strong defender at third, especially compared to Youk. But if Middlebrooks can be allowed to get completely comfortable in Triple-A, and perhaps ease into the major league level with a full spring training undertaken with the knowledge he'll be starting come April, then that's the ideal approach.
For now, let's just enjoy his run through the International League and keep our fingers crossed for Youkilis.