By Jeff Louderback
Considered the top prospect in the Red Sox farm system at the time, Will Middlebrooks provided the Major League club with a run-producing bat at the hot corner when he was summoned from Triple-A Pawtucket last year.
He was so impressive that general manager Ben Cherington dealt injury-prone veteran Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox. Then, after delivering a .288 average along with 15 home runs and 54 RBI in 286 plate appearances, the right-handed slugger was hit by a 96 m.p.h. offering from Cleveland’s Esmil Rogers and suffered a broken right wrist that prematurely ended his rookie campaign.
Middlebrooks’ right wrist is a subject of concern again after he re-aggravated it after swinging at a pitch in Wednesday night’s game against Baltimore. The 24-year-old Texas native, who rehabbed after the injury last August and reported to spring training healthy, was scheduled to see a specialist on Thursday morning to determine the wrist’s condition.
If Middlebrooks opens the regular season on the disabled list, he would likely be replaced by Pedro Ciriaco or Brock Holt (the infielder who was traded to the Red Sox from the Pirates along with closer Joel Hanrahan during the offseason).
If Middlebrooks is expected to miss a prolonged stretch of time, the Red Sox could sign a veteran third baseman like Scott Rolen, according to WEEI.com. They might also consider giving top prospect Xander Bogaerts a chance.
The 20-year-old Bogaerts, who is widely recognized as one of the top 10 prospects in baseball, has played shortstop over his three-year professional career, yet the organization could move him to third base or left field if Jose Iglesias shows he can consistently hit Major League pitching.
Ciriaco and Holt are valuable as utility players, but they are not ideal fill-ins if Middlebrooks lands on the DL. Rolen would just be a short-term replacement, so it would make more sense to give Bogaerts a chance to earn the third base job for the short term if Middlebrooks is not ready on opening day.
A native of the Dutch island of Aruba, Bogaerts will play third base for The Netherlands in the upcoming WBC. If he delivers with the bat and shows he can effectively man the hot corner in the tournament, the Red Sox could opt to start him at third base on opening day should Middlebrooks’ wrist injury linger.