Being a rookie in Major League Baseball can be tough. Arriving on the scene like Will Middlebrooks did and immediately mashing in your first month isn't something that can be counted on to occur, and oftentimes, when it does go that way, there are inevitable struggles that bring the player back to reality. Middlebrooks' case is special, in that he had his issues, but adjusted to pitchers adjusting to him continually, finishing up his first year with a .288/.325/.509 line and 15 homers in 75 games.
A rough start to a career doesn't portend future failure anymore than a great start predicts a productive one. It's all about adjusting -- or a lack of it -- that inevitably drives a player's career. Ask Dustin Pedroia, who came up in late August in 2006, and hit all of .191/.258/.303 in his first 98 plate appearances. In fact, with Pedroia, the struggles went on even longer, as he also hit .182/.308/.236 the following April, before finally putting on the first of many laser shows to come in May of his rookie year.
All rookies who struggle aren't going to turn into Pedroia, no matter how much potential they have, but there are cases much like Pedroia's all of the time. The Red Sox are dealing with such cases right now, in rookies Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias. Lavarnway has produced a .174/.237/.217 line in 76 plate appearances over 21 games, while Iglesias has yet to record a hit in 2012 -- but has drawn a single walk -- in his six games in 2012.
It's hard to watch Lavarnway and Iglesias at the plate right now, but in a lost season with eyes already pointed towards 2013 -- much like fans and the Red Sox were looking towards 2007 already in late August of 2006 -- these two need to take their lumps and work towards becoming productive members of the Red Sox.
Lavarnway had his toughest year in the minors at Pawtucket as he transitioned into the role of full-time catcher, and there might be some fatigue at play at this late date for the backstop. The Red Sox want him to catch, though, and learning to take on a catcher's workload while maintaining his success at the plate is key to his future. He'll keep playing, and, likely for now, keep making outs, but if more reps now means better production in 2013 against major-league pitching, then it's worth it. Throw in that he needs to be catching major-league caliber pitchers to show that he's an actual major-league caliber catcher, and there are more than enough reasons to stick him in the lineup, even if it's painful to see. What do the Red Sox, well under .500 and jockeying for draft position more than decency, lose by letting Lavarnway play now?
The same goes for Iglesias, who doesn't have the offensive upside, but is already accomplished with the glove. Preparing him for the kind of future he has in front of him, with major-league pitchers and their major-league pitches, is an easy choice in a lost season. Boston knows what Mike Aviles can do, and one goal of September is to see if he'll need to do that again for the Red Sox in 2013. Seeing what Iglesias can or cannot do is key.
It's hard to watch, but anytime a rookie comes up and is more Pedroia than Middlebrooks, that's going to be the case. Don't give up on either just yet, as the present is meant to give them more chances to succeed in the future.