It provides some great perspective on how despite one's talents, tools and pedigree, you're never really a can't-miss prospect. It's also a great lesson in organizational patience.
In 2008, in his first professional season after getting taken in the fifth round of the 2007 draft and signing a $925,000 bonus to pass on college, Middlebrooks arrived in Fenway Park amidst a career start that made his future look anything but certain.
Middlebrooks was playing for the Lowell Spinners of the New York-Penn League at the time, and for much of the first seven-plus weeks of the season, he appeared hopelessly overmatched. The distance that he traveled in less than four years to return to Fenway Park on Wednesday night is little short of staggering.
Gary DiSarcina, Middlebrooks’ manager that year in Lowell, recently sat in a minor league dugout with Mike Trout in his current capacity as the Angels’ minor league field coordinator. Trout -- a dazzling five-tool talent who was called up at the end of April by the Angels -- and Middlebrooks became close while Arizona Fall League teammates last fall.
As DiSarcina and Trout sat together on a night off for the prospect, the conversation turned to Middlebrooks.
“I told him, ‘Mike, if you had seen this guy four years ago when I had him in Lowell, you would just be in total shock. He was a high school kid playing in a college league and he was just overmatched for the first six weeks,’” DiSarcina said.
It is fascinating to recall Middlebrooks at that uncertain time in his career. To recall the depths of his struggles -- not just in 2008 with Lowell, but also the subsequent year in Greenville -- helps to explain the developmental process that led the 23-year-old to his current position as a player whose promise at the start of his big league career seems virtually boundless.
He was homesick. At a time in his life when Middlebrooks would have been a freshman at Texas A&M, a bit less than 300 miles from his native Texarkana in 2008, Lowell, Mass., felt like the far end of the world.
Players who struggle question whether they made the right decision in choosing pro ball over college. Particularly given that Middlebrooks walked away from a two-sport offer to play football and baseball at Texas A&M, those feelings were undoubtedly intensified as the reality of his challenge in pro ball became clear.
“I was very raw coming out of high school -- very raw. I was basically an athlete, not a baseball player,” Middlebrooks reflected. “I played sports year round. Whatever season it was, I was doing it. I never focused on one sport for a long period of time in high school.”
Middlebrooks cannot say, with the benefit of hindsight, whether that multi-sport background left him behind other players at the start of his pro career. What he does know is what transpired on the field.
In terms of performance, he was awful. While the Red Sox typically keep premium position prospects at shortstop as long as possible, with Middlebrooks, they decided to embrace the inevitable transition (based on body type) to third base on the day that he showed up in Lowell following the months spent in Fort Myers in extended spring training. So, defensively, he had to make the adjustment to a new position, with the corresponding uncertainty that came with the move.
Like Will, Alex has been absolutely killing it this spring.