Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who is ranked as Boston’s top prospect by SoxProspects.com, will be among the latest group of players trying to use the Arizona Fall League as the springboard to big-league stardom. There were 41 Arizona Fall League alumni in last July’s All-Star game, and 9 MVPs and 3 Cy Young Award winners have the AFL on their resume.
Middlebooks will be playing third base for the Scottsdale Scorpions, who open their AFL play Tuesday night. The Scorpions’ roster is comprised of prospects from the Red Sox, Angels, Phillies, Giants, and Nationals, and will be managed by Arnie Beyeler, who managed Triple-A Pawtucket this season and will be burnishing his own resume by managing here.
Beyeler is expected to receive some consideration by the Sox in their search for a replacement for Terry Francona, whose contract options were not exercised by the club last week.
Beyeler will be managing a team that has three of the top outfield prospects in baseball, including one of the most highly touted players ever, Bryce Harper. Mike Trout, who already made it to the big leagues with the Angels, and Gary Brown, the Giants’ No. 1 pick in 2010 who tore up the California League, are also on the team, which will make playing time a challenge for Sox outfield prospect Alex Hassan, the former B.C. High star and Milton, Mass., native who posted an impressive .291/.404/.456 line for Double-A Portland.
The Sox also sent catcher Dan Butler, who was a Carolina League All-Star who wound up the season with Pawtucket; shortstop Ryan Dent, and four pitchers: right-handers Caleb Clay, Brock Huntzinger, and Jeremy Kehrt, and left-hander Will Latimer.
Here’s Mike Andrews’ breakdown of Middlebrooks on Soxprospects.com:
1. Will Middlebrooks (23 years old)
3B, Triple-A Pawtucket/Double-A Portland/Short-Season Lowell (rehab)
How acquired: Drafted in the 5th round, 2007. $925,000 bonus.
2011 Stats: .285/.328/.506 with 23 home runs.
Scouting Report: Middlebrooks is a solid all-around athlete with an ideal third-baseman’s frame. He has packed on a lot of muscle since signing in August 2007, but has managed to maintain above-average athleticism. On offense, he has plus bat speed with a nice upward plane through the strike zone, and he hits the ball hard with backspin when he squares it up. With improving bat control and pitch recognition, Middlebrooks projects to have plus power to all fields at the major-league level. However, he’s an aggressive hitter who will need to learn to be a bit more selective at Triple-A before making the jump to the big leagues. He also tends to over-extend his arms during his swing, which causes him to be susceptible on the inner third of the zone. He will need to refine his approach with inside pitches to produce more consistent contact and reduce the strikeouts. He also has the tendency to over-pull the ball during extended stretches, and has proven to be at his best when he’s using the whole field. Defensively, Middlebrooks is rounding toward becoming a plus overall defender. He has a plus-to-elite arm, as he was a highly-regarded pitcher in high school. He’s light on his feet defensively with strong anticipation, reaction, and first step skills. He shows solid footwork and typically stays square to the ball. He could stand to improve range to his left by stabbing less at the ball and taking another step or continuing to become comfortable throwing on the move. Overall, he’s a hard worker who has shown an exemplary ability to make adjustments each season.
Projection: Long-term above-average starter at third base
Ceiling: Perennial All-Star, middle-of-the-order bat
Projected 2012 assignment: Pawtucket with a late-season call-up to Boston