Looking over ESPN.com’s report on the third base prospects for the Red Sox, I have to agree this is their most vulnerable position. Third base usually brings power or batting consistency to the line-up, and the Red Sox have lacked that since the departure of Adrian Beltre, in retrospect a regrettable loss.
Beltre’s successor was Kevin Youkilis, the “Greek God of Walks,” a title that practically made him a poster boy for the offensive strategy of the team. But Youkilis was chronically injured and a young pretender named Will Middlebrooks was ripe for the Majors. They shared the job for a year, but Youkilis ended up with the Yankees and, with continued physical handicaps, has drifted to oblivion. Now his successor faces the same fate.
Middlebrooks has been afforded more opportunity to rehabilitate than Youkilis ever had. He has been the youth of eternal promise for three years. Except for a healthy month or two when he first took over third base in Boston, he has been a chronic disappointment. He has never found a way to lay off the low outside pitch or take the outside pitch to the opposite field. He is a gaping hole in the lower third of the line-up.
I think the time has come to cross the Middlebrooks and choose his successor. It could be Brock Holt, who is versatile enough to play anywhere, or it could be a free agent with some pop. Holt’s value as a replacement everywhere except pitching and catching suggests a need for a full-time third baseman.
But the fragility of Middlebrooks darkens his future and his ability to mature as a Major League hitter. His fielding has even been erratic this year, although injuries could be blamed for that, too. If the Red Sox wanted to spend another year re-building and not contending, he might still be worth the risk, but the Red Sox are not taking that road next year.
I cheered the arrival of Middlebrooks and accepted his replacement of the icon Youkilis. Now I think his promise has expired, and he should rehab with another team. I hope to see an established slugger at third base next year, bringing a reliable 20-25 homers to the offense.
Looking over ESPN’s top ten prospects for the Red Sox, I fail to see a power hitter. After David Ortiz and Yoenis Cespedes, there’s not much power in the current line-up either. Whatever else happens in the Winter, the Red Sox will need to trade for a power hitter with some credibility.
Not Mike Napoli or Will Middlebrooks. Both have extended their medical benefits to their limits this year, and they are not consistent enough to make pitchers consider walking them. They both like to swing hard late in the count. Middlebrooks is not even a proven Major Leaguer. He is the lad of eternal promise, but now of broken promises. Napoli has been plagued with injuries, but he never gives you a full season of hitting. He goes on a bender for two months when he can’t hit anything. Since he can’t get out of his slump without playing, he has to take quite a few big swings before starting to connect again.
The Sox now have incredibly agile outfielders, who will fill the gaps and keep base runners honest. But Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino and Mookie Betts will not be clearing the bases with regularity. On base they will terrify, but someone has to drive them in. Daniel Nava? He is a steady performer, but not the power threat they need.
Comparisons are odious, but the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Angels have power up and down their line-ups. They don’t always need a rally to score runs– just a sold connection. If a pitcher puts two men on in the late innings, it is too easy to bring in flame-throwing relief before the third hitter gets to drive them in. Teams with power can get the rally started before that happens. The Yankees did not have healthy power hitters this year. The result speaks for itself.
If the pendulum in baseball has again swung toward pitching, then the selective power hitter is one answer to that. A pitcher has only to make one mistake to lose to a power hitter. With the short game, two or three bad pitches may not hurt you. How many double plays did the Red Sox hit into this year?
For Christmas this year, I would like a power-hitting first baseman.
When Will Middlebrooks came up in 2012 I was an enthusiastic promoter, willing to displace Kevin Youkilis for the next Red Sox power third baseman. He killed the ball for a month, got injured, and hasn’t been the same since then.
No one wants to see a career undermined by injury, but I think the Red Sox have given Middlebrooks ample chances to prove he can hit again. He can’t. He works the count better than he used to, but the result is the same, strike outs, weak fly balls, ground into double plays. He can’t even hold up the eighth position in the batting order.
The thing is, you reserve the lower third of the order for the good-field-no-hit guys, the catcher, the center fielder, sometimes the shortstop. The Red Sox have good young prospects at all those positions. So I smile when Jackie Bradley, Jr. strikes out four times in a game, because he steals 2-3 hits per game in center field. I nod when Dan Butler or Christian Vasquez have an oh-fer day, because I know they are protecting the base paths from reckless base runners. Xander Bogaerts, he’s only 21 and the official can’t-miss guy in the organization.
Middlebrooks? He’s the third out at the bottom of the order, who can easily be replaced by Brock Holt. His swing is sapped. His sun has set. He embarrasses himself every time he comes to the plate. In a faltering line-up, he is the one guy I do not expect to get his swing back and carry the team again. He is capable in the field, but no more so than three guys in the Red Sox organization who can hit better.
Brock Holt, Mookie Betts, and Garin Cecchini could be filling this position. They all look like they have a future with the Red Sox. Will Middlebrooks does not.
Sorry, Will. I defended your honor for two years. Now you are the Youkilis of 2014.
The Red Sox pitching staff generally looks deep and ready, but the hitting looks sick, especially in the outfield. A lot of undercutting and lazy fly balls, with the exception of Jackie Bradley who is not even making contact. Probably an issue of timing, because the hitters with the long swings are struggling, like David Ortiz, Johnny Gomes and Mike Napoli. Daniel Nava is not having the spring he did last year, either.
From a fans’ view it seems like Dave Middlebrooks has learned something that all the big swingers could study–hit where it’s pitched and let the ball travel to the opposite field when necessary. You see the same measured swings from Grady Sizemore and A J Pierczinski, just trying to put the ball in play. If you can get two-thirds of your line-up swinging this way, you have an offense. Even David Ortiz has shown he can take the ball to right, befuddling the over-shift. So why can’t the whole line-up take this approach, as they work on their timing?
I’ve always thought the Yankees were better at moving base-runners a base or two at a time. Since the big boppers like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Texeira have been sidelined, their offense has produced by consistency, more than power. But they had big run-scoring innings even with this incremental offense. They show patience at the plate with their swings, as well as their takes. This year they have stocked up with Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann and with Texiera returning, but I doubt you will see the over-swinging that some teams depend on to score runs.
Mike Napoli is the only Red Sox player who relies on the big swing to create offense. He is going to strike out a lot and hit his share of homers. He may try to strike out less this year, but he will undoubtedly lead the team in K’s and homers at the same time. What you see is what you get with Napoli.
But the rest of the line-up, especially David Ortiz, are adaptable to what they are thrown. They are professional hitters, and it’s what made them World Champions. Maybe we will see more of that when the season begins. But it will be sad if they continue to flail and pop out or strike out, when they could be producing like a team. It would be exciting to see Sizemore and Pedroia on base and Ortiz driving them in with an opposite field hit. The home runs can come later.
The Red Sox pitching is poised to have a spring of quality outings. It would great if the hitting would support them, even with three or four hard-earned runs.
It has come to pass that the Red Sox need to fret about hitting more than pitching. The sidelining of Cliff Bucholz is worrisome, but it is also clear that John Farrell understands his fragility and intends to keep him healthy with rest. The bullpen has been a little unpredictable, but it is still deep in both left and right-handers.
The big worry is the bottom of the batting order, which is a rally-killer. There should be no day that Stephen Drew, Will Middlebrooks and Dave Ross, the .200 club, are in the line-up together. They each have something to offer the team, but, as a unit, they are they are a yawning burial ground where rallies go to die. As a group they prefer the strikeout, rather than putting the ball in play.
I make the case for Jose Iglesias as an every-day player, because he puts the ball in play and more frequently makes hits out of mere contact. No one disputes his defensive prowess, and I have argued he makes the rest of the infield better. To consider him now as an offensive player requires an altered appreciation for his talent.
It is also inspiring to see Jonny Gomes making better contact on the recent road trip. Everyone wants him to succeed, and he clearly has talent and a good eye at the plate. However, any day when Daniel Nava sits, the Sox are a weaker team. Nava, along with Pedroia and Ortiz, is one player I like to see with men on base. He also brings a decent glove to the outfield. Having four decent outfielders is a problem I like to have, especially when you have two suicidal performers like Victorino and Ellsbury crashing into fences and throwing themselves around the bases. But, please, let Nava play with as little rest as he needs.
Admittedly it is a delight to talk about the Red Sox as though they were pennant contenders, urging line-up fixes, instead of trades and siphoning reinforcements from Pawtucket. When you are talking about securing the lower third of the line-up, you are talking about competing with the best teams in the league, like Baltimore and Texas.
To say there is a grave pit at the bottom of the line-up, is to say we have a problem we can fix. So, please, don’t let the .200 club populate the lower third. Iglesias forever and Ross on the weekends!