PAWTUCKET – There are two schools of thought regarding Will Middlebrooks and the third baseman’s recent return to major-league duty.
Given the Red Sox were receiving zero in the way of offensive production at the hot corner following the departure of Jose Iglesias – the post-July 31 non-waiver trading deadline saw Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder struggling to the tune of a combined .135 batting average (5-for-37) – the ball club was more than justified in being in the market for an upgrade.
Sizing up the internal options, Middlebrooks was hands down the best hope Boston had in upgrading such a critical position.
There’s also the belief that Middlebrooks earned his way back to Boston. When PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina phoned him late Friday night, informing Middlebrooks that he would be flying to Kansas City the following morning, a simple question was raised: Was Middlebrooks’ promotion merit based?
Looking at it from another direction, did Middlebrooks check off everything on his Pawtucket to-do list that in the eyes of the organization?
“I think he earned it,” feels DiSarcina. “He played hard down here, no doubt. It wasn’t by default.
“He’s excited, but he has a lot to prove and he knows it,” DiSarcina continued. “Sometimes when you’re a young player, it’s all about you. If anything, if you look at Will’s short time down here – and it wasn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things – he’s going to learn from it.”
Middlebrooks didn’t produce eye-popping numbers during his non-rehab stint with the PawSox, hitting .268 with 10 home runs and a .484 slugging percentage in 35 games. Taking a deeper look, the 24-year-old batted .238 in 26 games during the month of July.
In the eyes of his Triple-A skipper, Middlebrooks started to turn the corner once baseball’s annual in-season trading holiday came and went. Middlebrooks’ final 10 games with Pawtucket saw him bat .316 and slug at a .500 clip.
“The consistency started to come out more. His bath path was much, much better and he was hitting balls to right-center,” said DiSarcina. “It wasn’t about striking out, it was about putting good swings on balls, and he was doing that.
“I know for a young player in this market, you can’t help but be affected by outside noise and you can’t live in a bubble. He’s a young player and he’s going to hear and listen to things,” he added. “When he got by that, he started settling down.”
Which in turn allowed Middlebrooks to develop a pregame routine that wasn’t of the cutting-corners variety.
DiSarcina cited stories of Middlebrooks’ desire to turn over a new leaf. The manager learned that the player was up one night at 2 a.m. going over his approach in his hotel room. Then there was the time Middlebrooks wanted to talk about his breakthrough with DiSarcina while standing on third base and DiSarcina right behind him in the coaches’ box.
“Early on, he would come in and rush through some things like his hitting or fielding routine. That was one of things he had to work on,” said DiSarcina. “Paying attention to his routine and making sure he got his pregame work in, not doing it for the sake of doing it.
“When he was frustrated when he was first down here, it’s very easy to fall in that trap of taking 10 swings and getting out rather than 25,” DiSarcina expanded. “When it was game time, Will played hard.”
If Middlebrooks has learned anything this season, it’s that everything can vanish in a puff of smoke.
“It’s easy to fall in that entitlement trap. Will had three good months as a rookie and he went into spring training as the starting third baseman,” said DiSarcina. “You can’t take anything for granted in this game, I don’t care how old you are.
“To be sent down was a reality check for him and that this is a performance-based business. If you’re not performing at the big-league level, you’re not going to play and you’re going to come down (to the minors) to work things out,” DiSarcina added. “He was told that he had to work on things and that he wasn’t coming back until he corrected them.”
Given the transaction that took place last weekend, the Red Sox feel Middlebrooks got everything he possibly could out of his time with the PawSox.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03