Better Approach Helps Middlebrooks Break Out
BOSTON—The first time Will Middlebrooks hit a home run to right field, it was an accident. He was a senior in high school, facing a pitcher whose 90 mph fastball was harder than almost anyone else's he'd seen. He was late on a pitch, and surprised when the ball sneaked out straight down the right-field line.
Now the home runs to the opposite field are no longer an accident. Beginning in 2010 at high Class A Salem, Middlebrooks began to emerge as one of the best power hitters in the Red Sox system, in no small part because he came to understand how driving the ball to right-center and center could improve his game.
"I hit a majority of my home runs to center or right-center. I probably hit more to right than I did to left last year," Middlebrooks said, alluding to a 2011 campaign when he hit .285/.328/.506 with 23 homers and 94 RBIs between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.
When he gets ahead in the count, Middlebrooks looks for pitches that are middle-away, knowing that he can do damage with them. He came to learn his swing and approach in 2010 in Salem, putting him in position for his power eruption last year, when he surpassed his home run total of the prior three years combined.
"I was trying to become a good hitter before I was a good power hitter," Middlebrooks said. "I didn't have much of an approach my first couple years of pro ball. It was something I was developing, and finally, I have it. It's just second nature."
The 23-year-old impressed this spring in his first big league camp and then carried his spring into the start of the Triple-A season. He was batting .371/.413/.757 with eight homers in his first 18 games at Pawtucket.
"He's not striking out a lot and he's not chasing a lot," farm director Ben Crockett said. "His approach, more than anything, in terms of being able to use the entire field, it makes it hard for pitchers to pitch to him. It's really his strength. His ability to drive the ball to right field makes him dangerous."
• A minor groin injury during spring training will result in righthander Anthony Ranaudo missing most of the first month of the season. Prior to the injury, he hit 97 mph in spring games.
• Righthander Matt Barnes started his pro career by earning South Atlantic League pitcher of the week honors after tossing 10 shutout innings and striking out 16 in two starts for low Class A Greenville.