Keith Law has ranked Will Middlebrooks as the 22nd best MLB player under 25 years of age. Depending on where you stand on Mr. Middlebrooks, that's either a nice nod or an unfortunate underestimation.
It's not hard to see what earned Middlebrooks a place on the list. In his first major league season, the young third baseman collected 15 homers in about half a year's worth of at bats. Projected out over the course of a full year, Middlebrooks would have been worth four wins to the Sox had he not picked up an unfortunate injury thanks to a fastball to the wrist.
Law's reservations--the ones that keep Middlebrooks out of the top-20--are about what you'd expect:
...once interleague play ended in late June his free-swinging ways caught up to him, with a .244/.277/.423 line from the resumption of AL-only play until his season ended on August 10 due to a broken wrist.
My concern on Middlebrooks is more in the short term, that we'll see a drop in his power production as pitchers exploit his total lack of patience at the plate.
Our own Marc Normandin has already argued extensively that Middlebrooks is not an impatient hitter, and for the most part I think his take on the situation can stand on its own. Still, I'd be remiss if I didn't address that slash line Law throws out on MIddlebrooks. The learning process for Middlebrooks was so...pronounced...with pitchers exploiting new weaknesses, Middlebrooks responding after a bit, and the cycle repeating. The result is a very streaky season where removing a week or adding another in can swing the numbers dramatically. Cases in point:
Middlebrooks' season starting with the last week of interleague play: .288/.322/.532
Middlebrooks' season starting one week of games* after the end of interleague play: .271/.307/.458
Middlebrooks' season starting one week after that: .294/.342/.500
Frankly, Law ended up finding one of a very few possible starting point which leaves Will looking like he ended the season poorly.
Still, his overall projection of Middlebrooks in the future remains pretty positive:
A low-OBP, 25-30 homer third baseman who adds a few runs (saved) of value on defense is a good player, even if he's held back by the number of outs he makes with his bat.
Any projections on Middlebrooks being a decent-to-good OBP guy must be made with assumptions. Assumptions that this back-and-forth between Will and pitchers will end with Middlebrooks on top, or that he's going to make a change in how he approaches at bats. For Law to not make such a projection is safe and reasonable. And if that's what we end up with, it's hard to be upset, because that's more-or-less what we got in 2012, and we were plenty happy with that.
*Middlebrooks was injured for a bit around the ASB, so this is actually picking up on July 13 when he returns.