Commentary

Will Middlebrooks fights frustration

Sophomore season hasn't gone well, but he's pushing on, waiting for call

Updated: July 31, 2013, 10:50 PM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Boston Red Sox prospect Will Middlebrooks is learning more this season at the minor league level than he did when he was enjoying tremendous success while with the big club in 2012.

His sophomore season in the majors wasn't supposed to play out in this fashion. The 24-year-old third baseman shouldn't have had to worry about whether the Red Sox would deal him at the trade deadline. He's learning that a brief stint of success in the big leagues doesn't earn you anything.

[+] EnlargeWill Middlebrooks
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsWill Middlebrooks admits he was hoping to get called up to Boston, but says he has faith in Ben Cherington and John Farrell.

Instead, he has continued to hone his skills at Triple-A Pawtucket since being optioned to the minors on June 25.

On Wednesday, the PawSox played a matinee game against the Norfolk Tides (Baltimore Orioles affiliate) at McCoy Stadium and, with the non-waiver trade deadline looming at 4 p.m., it wasn't the best of days for Middlebrooks.

First, he was informed that he wouldn't be promoted to Boston after the Red Sox traded infielder Jose Iglesias to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night as part of a three-team, seven-player deal. Instead, the Red Sox called up infielder Brock Holt.

"You just never know what to expect," Middlebrooks said after the PawSox lost to the Tides, 3-0. "I didn't really want to read too much into it because I knew I had a game today. I needed to come in ready to play today.

"It's tough because, of course, you want it to be you, but I would never question Ben [Cherington] and John [Farrell], I'd never question their decision-making. The decisions they make are the best for the organization. I know they care about me and I know they want the best for me too. I trust them."

Middlebrooks was ejected in the bottom of the third inning after striking out, slamming his bat and helmet, and directing a few words at home plate umpire Joey Amaral.

"I overreacted," Middlebrooks said. "I just got frustrated. You're trying to have good at-bats and to have them taken away from you, it gets frustrating after a while, so I just lost my cool."

Middlebrooks' frustration is understandable. He began the season with the Red Sox, but suffered a lower-back strain on May 24 and was placed on the disabled list. He was activated on June 10 before being optioned a couple of weeks later. At the time, he was batting .192 with nine homers and 25 RBIs in 53 games for the Red Sox.

"I was taking it too serious and I let things snowball," Middlebrooks said. "I got off to a bad start and I got frustrated and had some injuries. It all just snowballed on me. It happens to everybody at some point."

In Pawtucket, he's had good stretches but also has struggled at times.

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"You have to remain professional and you have to come to the ballpark as a player taking care of your business," Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina said. "At times he's really good at it and it coincides with his performance on the field. When he shows up here and he rushes through his routine, you can see it in his face. He kind of needs to relax and just take care of what he can take care of."

Getting ejected from Wednesday's game not only hurt the team, but it also affected Middlebrooks' efforts to get back where he needs to be. DiSarcina understands the frustrations Middlebrooks is experiencing and the manager will address the ejection on Thursday.

"You've got to let him be himself and give him some space," DiSarcina said. "Yet you've got to step in. For me, usually I'll wait a day and [Thursday] I'll talk to him about it in a rational way."

The PawSox were playing with a short bench after Holt was promoted to Boston, something Middlebrooks should have considered. Plus, he needs to remain on the field for his own good.

"You have to play. You have to be out there and perform," DiSarcina said. "One of the hard things for any young player in Boston is dealing with everything that comes with being in Boston. He lives in Boston and I'm sure he's driving here and he's listening to talk radio."

Dealing with this type of adversity is something Middlebrooks is learning to play through. A season ago, he made his major league debut on May 2 and quickly became the everyday third baseman for the Red Sox. Before suffering a season-ending wrist fracture on Aug. 10, Middlebrooks hit .288 with 15 homers and 54 RBIs.

Entering spring training, it seemed inevitable he would be a lock for the starting job for this season and beyond. But health issues and subpar performance forced the Red Sox to send him to the minors.

"Having success for three months last year, it can give you somewhat of a false sense of who you are," DiSarcina said. "It's not about having three months of success. It's about having sustained success, and that's what he's struggling with."

The main reason Middlebrooks is playing in Pawtucket is to become more consistent in the batter's box.

"He'll be good for two weeks, then he'll wander out of it," DiSarcina said.

The PawSox manager has noticed that Middlebrooks typically has lost his focus when Iglesias was struggling in Boston, or when Brandon Snyder was in the lineup for the Red Sox. Or even when fellow prospect Xander Bogaerts was having success in Pawtucket.

DiSarcina, a former big league infielder and Massachusetts native, sees the potential with Middlebrooks.

"It's tricky because he's had success there and he knows what it's like when you do have success there and how good it can be," DiSarcina said. "But it's a privilege to play up there or on any major league team. You have to be 100 percent committed on a daily basis and it starts here. It starts at this level. He's just got to get back to that and I've got to be the guy who reminds him."

The trade deadline came and went, and Middlebrooks remained in the Red Sox organization.

"Of course I want to be here. I want to stay here," he said.

Despite his .253 average with the PawSox, he believes he's doing what he needs to do at the plate in order to regain his confidence.

"I feel good," he said. "It's not like I'm hitting .330, but I'm hitting a lot of balls hard and I'm seeing the ball well. I'm getting in decent counts. It's a step up from where things were earlier in the year.

"I know the player I am. The biggest thing in my own mind was getting my body healthy again, and I feel like I'm getting to that point."

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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