Linares - Kelly O'Conner,

So…Will Middlebrooks. It’s impossible to talk about anything involving the Red Sox’ minor league clubs without Middlebrooks’ name entering the discussion. (See Mike Scandura’s profile of Middlebrooks, written yesterday.) He’s destroying Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .365 average, a .741 SLG, and an absurd 1.154 OPS. Baseball America ranked him number one on their hot sheet last week, and every Kevin Youkilis strikeout (20 in 64 at bats for those keeping track) brings his name closer and closer towards the conversation.

All of that being said, there’s no reason to rush Middlebrooks up. The sox are playing well right now, winning six straight, and even if Youkilis is underperforming, it would be counterproductive to just throw him to the curb. Remember, Middlebrooks has only had 85 at bats this season. Yes, it has been an incredible 85 at bats, but a small sample size nonetheless. Middlebrooks will have his time. Every home run makes him harder and harder to ignore, but Red Sox Nation will have to, at least for a couple more weeks.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the roundup:

Stock Rising:

Will Middlebrooks- See above. Had to mention him first.

Juan Carlos Linares– Hitting a cool .349 for the Portland Sea Dogs. Add in four homers, nine walks, and a .446 OBP, and you have to wonder why you don’t hear more about this guy. He struggles hitting lefties (.154 average compared to a .400 mark against righties), and has eight strikeouts so far, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t be in Pawtucket soon.

Daisuke Matsuzaka– Daisuke? Daisuke. Yes, it’s gotten to the point that I’m actually looking forward to the national treasure rejoining the rotation. At this point, we’ll take any half-decent pitcher we can take. Anyway, he’s pitched well in his two rehab starts so far. He pitched for the Sea Dogs on Friday, and went 4 2/3 innings, throwing 74 pitches, striking out seven, allowing a run and three hits, and walking two. Not too shabby.

Bryan Johns– The undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt is quietly leading Boston’s minor league system with a .480 OBP for the Salem Drive.

Mark Melancon: 4.1 scoreless innings. Eight strikeouts. You’ll see him on Monday.

Briefly: Matt Barnes is still killing it (21 innings pitched, no earned runs, and 34 (yup) strikeouts. Xander Bogearts hit his second home run of the season on Friday.

Stock That Is Just Getting Annoying At This Point:

Aaron Cook– As a reliver? To be honest, I’m skeptical of the guy as a starter, let alone someone who would be coming in for the seventh or eighth inning. Sure, he’s 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA, but those numbers are a bit deceiving. He only has thirteen strikeouts in thirty-three innings, along with eleven walks. The guy just doesn’t have swing and miss stuff, and that’s what you need from a truly effective reliever. That being said, I really have no problem with moving Bard back to the bullpen, just because you see how valuable he can be in games like Monday’s win in Minnesota. The bullpen has been excellent as of late, giving up only one run in the last 15 1/3 innings, but Vicente Padilla won’t be pitching scoreless eighths all season, and the Sox need to be ready for when the regression back to the group that blew a one run lead just a week ago begins. Because of this May 1st opt out that Cook has, the front office is going to be forced into a decision very soon either way. If I had to guess I’d say that decision will be to use him in the ‘pen, and I think it’s the wrong one.

Andrew Miller– Don’t act too surprised, but Andrew Miller is having control problems down at Pawtucket. He’s walked eleven in eight innings, but has also struck out seventeen. He’s also allowed seven runs over that eight-inning span. Prognosis? Well, it’s hard to say. He’s pitched better against lefties than righties, so there’s some thought to using him as a LOOGY, but Rich Hill would appear to have that role locked up at the moment. There’s absolutely no way he is brought into the rotation. Until he starts toning down the control issues, he’ll stay marooned in Pawtucket, and honestly, it’s starting to look like the whole Andrew Miller reclamation project is a lost cause…maybe it was all along.

Stock Falling:

Jose IglesiasMike Aviles is killing it. Killing it. Meanwhile, Iglesias is hitting .197 and it looks like it’s going to be quite sometime before he sees the majors. After all the hoopla in the spring, this has really become a non-issue for the organization.

Bryce Brentz– One of the best outfield prospects in the system coming into spring training, he’s only hitting .216 with one homer. Many were expecting big things out of Brentz this year, and he certainly hasn’t lived up to those expectations yet. Still time though, it’s only been 88 at bats

Sean Coyle– Pretty highly touted second baseman, really off to a slow start with a .22 average.  He’s made two errors already too. He does have two home runs though.

Listening to: A Long December by the Counting Crows

Watching: Manhattan directed by Woody Allen