PHOENIX, AZ : U.S. Futures All-Star Will Middlebrooks #16 of the Boston Red Sox throws the ball to first base during the XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
In a move that's less surprising this afternoon than it was this morning, both Will Middlebrooks and Aaron Cook will join the Red Sox in Boston. The corresponding moves are not yet known, and Cook, since he started three days ago, might not join today.
Cook started in Pawtucket five times, posting a 1.89 ERA in 33 innings. Things didn't go nearly as well as that figure suggests, though, as Cook walked 11 batters against 13 strikeouts, and didn't post the kind of groundball out rates you'd expect for someone with both Middlebrooks and Jose Iglesias playing behind him defensively. Scouts said that his stuff was "ordinary", and, of course, the International League is not the majors.
Cook is depth, though, and has been successful when healthy. Since he is open to the idea of relieving, and the Red Sox believe now that his shoulder can handle the move, they have a spot to put him, even if he's not going to start just yet. Keeping him under contract lets him become starting pitcher insurance at least until Daisuke Matsuzaka returns from rehab later this month, or gives the Red Sox a chance to have a pitcher on hand to start in case Clay Buchholz does end up requiring a stint on the DL for his blister.
Middlebrooks is in the majors for the first time because Kevin Youkilis' back is not improving. He's missed three-straight games, and according to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, the pain and stiffness in his back is "intensifying."
While Middlebrooks struggled closing out the 2011 season at Triple-A -- the first time in his professional career he spent time at two different levels in the same campaign -- he's more than rebounded in his first 100 plate appearances of 2012. He's hitting .333/.380/.677 with nine homers and 13 extra-base hits overall, and after punching out in 30 percent of his plate appearances at the level (and 24 percent at Double-A), he's whiffing just 18 percent of the time. Add to that a slight bump in his walk rate, and a noticeable improvement in his plate discipline, and it looks like Middlebrooks is making his second significant jump in results.
It's too early to say anything about trading Youkilis, or sitting him behind Middlebrooks, or anything that drastic. It's 100 successful plate appearances in Triple-A, but it's just 100; he still has things to learn. Middlebrooks has been impressive, and he's a huge talent, but not every up-and-coming prospect succeeds the moment they land in the majors. It's hard to remember now, but even Dustin Pedroia was wholly unimpressive when first pressed into action with the Sox.
That being said, if Middlebrooks does succeed with Youkilis on the DL, the Red Sox might have themselves a question to answer. But we're not there yet.