What positives can be drawn from the third season of the Red Sox regressive decline into a “protected pick team”? We finally have a new franchise changing manager? no. We are just one arm or one bat short of making it back? no. In the end, it boils down to the play of the various youngsters who made the trip to Fenway this season that becomes the thing to look forward to in 2013.
In particular, two position players stand out when looking at this roster in terms of the future.
Will Middlebrooks, This 24 year old, 6’4, 200lb former football player instantly gained the attention and excitement of Sox fans from the first game he played (a walk and two hits). From his cannon of an arm, to the very live pop of his bat, Middlebrooks had shown he belonged immediately. Will had his call up on May 2nd, and on June 24th baseball was treated to one of the most classy send offs in history as the last hurdle for Middlebrooks, Kevin Youkilis, came off third base as he was traded to Chicago in the first of a few deals to clear old money for younger talent.
Middlebrooks continued to play well–not quite to the levels of his MLB player of the week honors in late June–for the remainder of his unfortunate shortened season, as he would bat .288 on the year to go along with 15 HR in just 75 games played before a pitch broke his wrist on August 11th, ending his memorable rookie season.
What does the future hold for the former #1 prospect in the Red Sox organization? The way he preformed out of the gate is a good sign that he can adapt to the game well, and Sox fans should be able to look forward to seeing Will Middlebrooks name in the everyday lineup for years to come, with a few All-Star nominations if things go as planned.
The other player who came up large when the Sox really needed that boost was a very unlikely candidate… That player? None other than the current third basemen Pedro Ciriaco.
The Dominican born infielder had his initial Major League at bats with Pittsburgh in 2010 before signing a minor league deal with Boston in the winter of 2011. Ciriaco initially impressed not only the Boston brass, but the Sox fans who had watched the spring training games where he led the team in nearly every offensive statistical category and seemed to have the game winning or tying hit in nearly every game. Some (myself) even flooded twitter with calls for Ciriaco to start the season with the big club, given the contract Nick Punto had just signed, it wasn’t happening. Pawtucket is where he would start the season.
July 7th against the Yankees, in prime time… not exactly the easiest scenario for a youngster to make his debut with the Red Sox. However when the game was settled, he was the one featured on the highlight reel as he was awarded the Player of the Game. Little did anyone know that would just be the beginning of the Yankees torment at the hands of the former Pirate. Over the next eight games against New York, Ciriaco would post a triple slash of .486/.500/.657 some of that would even come while he was in a 8-50 slumber. All the while showing very good speed as well as a nice glove to go with it.
At the of age 27 (as of September 27th) one would think Sox fans would be happy and comfortable to see Ciriaco as the new and improved Alex Cora, the guy who you know is going to be there in whatever capacity needed, and provide a reliable glove. Ciriaco adds impressive speed and a good–albeit streaky–bat.
With a minors that boasts names such as Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley, Bryce Brenz, Xander Bogearts as well as newcomers Webster and De La Rosa we need to collectively put our faith in Ben Cherington to stick to the program that became corrupt under Theo Epstiens regime, and build from the minors. The young talent stored in Pawtucket all the way down to Ft. Meyers (along with a high pick this season) is plenty for Red Sox fans to look forward to in these dark, sad days on Landsdowne.