Ten days ago, Kevin Youkilis' back tightened up. After missing a few games in favor of Nick Punto, the decision was made to place the third baseman on the disabled list, and to give Will Middlebrooks his first call-up to the major leagues.
Now, one week into May, Youkilis' injury is looking like a blessing to the Red Sox. I won't go so far as to say a blessing in disguise, since that would be to ignore the multitude of Sox fans who had been tired of Youkilis' struggles and wanted to see Middlebrooks get a shot, but a blessing.
Through the first four games of his career, Will Middlebrooks is doing pretty well for himself. Eight hits in 21 at bats, including three that have left the park--or would have were it not for the interference of a foul pole--have Middlebrooks' batting line at a staggering .381/.409/.952. That's not written with the last number as OPS. That's his slugging percentage--nearly a base per at bat.
It's a start that has to have both the organization and Kevin Youkilis wondering "what next?"
Just to state the obvious: Will Middlebrooks will not always be this good. He will drop down, likely go through a major slump at some point as the league figures out what he has problems with, and then have to work his way out of the slump. The intervening period may not be terribly pretty, but it's something that almost all prospects have to work through as they become major league regulars.
Still, there is every likelihood he will be good, or even very good. We've seen for ourselves the sort of power he can produce even when he doesn't catch the ball flush (the opposite-field shot last night). And when he does? Forget about it. We also know he's a capable defender, his two early errors notwithstanding.
Between his bat, glove, and the unreal start he's had, it's going to be very difficult for the Red Sox to send him anywhere when Kevin Youkilis is ready to come back. If he cools down considerably then it could be a bit more conceivable, but barring the early start of his slump they're going to have a difficult decision to make.
While many have been pushing the idea of trading Youkilis, this doesn't seem like the best time to pull that particular trigger. On the back of a .219/.292/.344 start to the season, Youkilis' value is at something of an all-time low. A one-time team-friendly contract has become somewhat prohibitive as a result. If the Sox were to deal him now, the most they could hope for is some small salary relief and a mediocre 3rd-tier prospect unlikely to ever make the majors in any significant capacity.
What they can do is simply hold onto him. The Sox have, in the past, endured a crowded roster without too much aggravation, and with injury seemingly around every corner having a backup capable of great things could go a long way. Kevin Youkilis won't be terribly happy with the situation, but if enough playing time can be carved out--particularly against left-handed pitchers whom he's still doing a decent job with--then hopefully he can be placated long enough to at least rebuild some value should the Sox find an appropriate match before the trade deadline.
If nothing else, it means less Nick Punto, and I'm pretty sure we can all agree that's a positive.