Since storming into the Red Sox lineup in early May with nine hits, nine runs batted-in and three homeruns in his first five games as the starting third baseman, Will Middlebrooks has cemented himself as one of the top young players in Boston, if not Major League Baseball. After his hot start, the 23-year-old Texan continued to rake at the plate and his emergence was the main reason why the Red Sox were able to trade former fan favorite Kevin Youkilis without much grumbling from the Fenway faithful. While other rising stars like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Eric Hosmer have been grabbing all the ink and SportsCenter highlights, Middlebrooks has quietly been putting together a rookie season that should have people taking notice.
Through 51 career games entering Monday, Middlebrooks had amassed 41 RBI, 11 homeruns and a .301 batting average, numbers that surpass what Trout (22 RBI, 7 HR, .244 BA), Harper (20 RBI, 7 HR, .280 BA) and Homser (31 RBI, 6 HR, .274 BA) were able to accomplish during their first 51 games. Out of those three, only Harper had a higher on-base percentage than Middlebrooks, primarily because he drew more walks.
Although he isn't as fast around the bases as Harper and Trout (and he's never stolen home), Middlebrooks does have some quickness and was only caught stealing once in four attempts. What he may lack in speed, Middlebrooks more than makes up for in power and his .546 slugging percentage is more than 50 points higher than Harper's during his first 51 games and more than 100 points higher than Trout's or Hosmer's during that same time span.
He might not be a Gold Glover at this point (he's tied for fifth in the American League for errors at third base), but Middlebrooks is no slouch with the leather and has looked more comfortable fielding his position with each game. The former fifth-round pick isn't as flashy on defense as Trout and he definitely has big (defensive) shoes to fill with the departure of Youkilis, but Middlebrooks has demonstrated he is more than capable of being a solid stopper at the hot corner.
During a season in which the Red Sox had an overall record of 45-44 entering Monday night's game against Chicago (coincidentally enough Youkilis' first appearance at Fenway as a member of the White Sox), Boston was 32-19 during games in which Middlebrooks appeared. When Youkilis played, the Red Sox were only 22-20.
Despite an 0-4 night from Middlebrooks, Boston's record with him in the lineup improved to 33-19 after a 5-1 victory. Youkilis went 3-4 and was cheered heartily, but no one was clamoring for his return. A glance at Youkilis' career numbers through 51 games (32 RBI, 6 HR, .280 BA .460 SLG) confirms why Red Sox fans were willing to accept the former All Star's departure without complaint: Middlebrooks' career is off to a better start than the "Greek God of Walks," and he is ten years younger.
So what will it take for Middlebrooks to start getting his props at a national level? Certainly the Red Sox sporadic play and usual dose of off-field drama has helped to draw the spotlight away from the success the first-year player is having but wit the numbers he is putting up, there is no reason that Middlebrooks' name shouldn't at least be mentioned in conversations about Rookie of the Year. It's possible that the relative lack of recognition has taken some of the pressure off Middlebrooks and that flying under the radar is helping him succeed. If that's the case, so be it. If he keeps hitting like he has though, Middlebrooks will be near the front of the rookie class by the end of the season, a position that no one who follows baseball will be able to ignore.
(All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com)