Will Middlebrooks: 'I have to prepare like I'm the starting third baseman for the Red Sox'

Rob Bradford
January 07, 2014 - 3:07 am

A year ago, Will Middlebrooks' fate was seemingly etched in stone. Working out at Athletes' Performance in the Dallas area, the third baseman was heading into the 2013 season carrying the expectation that he would not only be starting for the Red Sox, but serve as an important presence right in the heart of the team's batting order. This, however, has been a very different offseason. The good news for Middlebrooks is that there is no rehabilitation when it comes to his injured wrist, as was the case heading into last spring training. The injuries to his back and ribs have also fully healed, allowing for seamless workouts at Mike Boyle's facility in Woburn. But, besides improved health and relocation, there has been one significant change this winter. Middlebrooks' existence as an everyday player for the Red Sox isn't nearly the slam dunk of a year ago. He fully understands the situation: If Stephen Drew re-signs with the Red Sox, the presence of the veteran shortstop, along with Xander Bogaerts, makes the left side of the infield a crowded place. "I haven't talked to anyone about it," he said. "I haven't even talked to Stephen. I have to prepare like I'm the starting third baseman for the Red Sox. So I'm going to prepare, because regardless of what happens I'm going to be playing baseball somewhere. I'm hoping it's in Boston because this is where I want to spend my career. I love it here. We'll see, but, like I said, I'm going to be playing baseball so I have to be ready." It would be human nature to be distracted by the roster uncertainty, especially considering there are just 40 days until pitchers and catchers report. Middlebrooks, however, seemingly has managed to keep his peace of mind throughout the process. "I wouldn't say it's hard," he explained. "I have enough trust and confidence in my ability that I'm going to have a job somewhere regardless of where it is. I want to be here. I don't want to go anywhere. I want to play in Boston. Every player's dream is to play on the team that has a chance to win the World Series every year, and not many people can say that. This is where I want to be. This is the group of veterans I was introduced to the big leagues with and these are the guys I want to play with." What Middlebrooks has heading into his upcoming season (which will begin with a Feb. 1 arrival in Fort Myers) is the security of another professional season under his belt. It just so happened that that year included a World Series championship, and what seemed liked a decade full of setbacks. He would play in just 94 major league games, hitting .227 with a .696 OPS but with 17 home runs. There were 45 more games with Triple-A Pawtucket, the place he somewhat reinvented himself before reemerging with the Red Sox in August. "It's one of those things it was a year I wasn't happy with how things went. I'm just trying to get back to where I want to be baseball-wise," said the 25-year-old. "We won a World Series, which was great, and there was experience from that to gain. But what a lot of people don't see is when you struggle and don't do well, that's when you learn the most. It's all easy when you're doing well, it's a cakewalk. But when you struggle or try and play through an injury, that's when you really learn. It's nice when you're teammates are on your side. You really, really gain a lot of knowledge from it." But after another step back surfaced in the postseason, with Bogaerts taking the everyday third base job throughout the World Series, Middlebrooks admittedly still needed some separation from the season to fully soak in the lessons learned from '13. While last season was unfolding, it wasn't easy for the third baseman to digest the reality -- for a second-year big leaguer things weren't all that bad. He not only had a World Series championship under his belt, but in basically a season's worth of games (169), his combined numbers came out to 32 home runs and a .756 OPS. "Probably not until the season was over," he said when asked when he could fully appreciate the lessons learned last season. "I was so frustrated. Just knowing I was not the player I am. I was very frustrated. I wasn't happy with it. Probably a couple of weeks after the season was over I was able to sit back, look at it as a whole and really see what I learned from it. "Most people would take that opportunity to be selfish about it. Honestly, for the most part, Major League Baseball is a very individual sport. That's why I think this team was so good this year because it was about the team, it was about the guy next to you. I honestly fully bought into that. I think that's something else that got me through this year. To be selfish would have been the easy way out, but that's not who I am." And one talk, in particular, helped move along the maturation process, leading Middlebrooks to his current optimistic state. "David Ortiz came to me and said, 'You think this is struggling? This isn't struggling. Struggling is when you're being paid millions of dollars, then it's hard. You're young. This is the beginning of your career. There's a learning curve. You're still very new to this league,' " the infielder remembered. "Just to hear him say, 'Everything is going to fine. Everybody has been down.' ... I had so many guys help. I'm really excited about getting on the field again. ... I want to get with the coaches and get with the guys. I'm excited to get going again."