Will Middlebrooks on Salem, and what he has learned thus far in Spring Training 2011

Will Middlebrooks was drafted out of high school in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. A shortstop originally, Middlebrooks was converted to third base in his first full year of pro-ball. Last year in Salem, Middlebrooks hit .276 avg/.331 OBP/.439 SLG/.770 OBPS with 70 RBIs. Middlebrooks has already been called up to four games this Spring Training. In this interview, he discusses that process and what he has learned, as well as his 2010 season in Salem.

Will didn’t have to stay around for his interview. I had just started interviewing Gibson when Middlebrooks walked by and said, “I’ll wait over here.” He waited for ten minutes, which he did not have to do by any means. It obviously meant a lot that he waited, but I think it really speaks a lot to his character that he was willing to wait. He didn’t make me feel rushed at all.

What was the deciding factor, or factors, in choosing to go professionally over going to college first?

Well, it was tough because both my parents are educators, and
my dad is a coach, so education is important to them. I was [committed] to Texas A&M,
which is a pretty good academic school, and I was hoping to play football and
baseball there, so it was a tough decision but being able to start my career
early and just get a head start.

What was your biggest challenge last year in Salem?

I feel like the pitching was a lot better just in the jump
from Low-A (ie. Greenville) to High-A (ie. Salem), and just getting comfortable at the plate, staying
consistent with my approach. Within the first two, two-and-a-half
months, I had a real good beginning of the season

I hear a lot of guys say that the transition from Low-A to High-A is tough. What did you notice about the pitchers that made it that much harder?

Just being able to throw all their pitches for strikes. That’s just something the higher you get, everyone is more consistent–that’s
just the name of the game at this point. So especially going in this year, I’m
probably gonna be in Double-A (ie. Portland), which is supposedly the biggest jump in the minor
leagues. …Just pitchers being able to throw any pitch at any time for a strike.

So how did you adapt to that?

Like I said, just remaining consistent in my approach, and
knowing what pitches I can hit, and what counts, and just watching film and
studying the game.

A lot of the times, an organization will change a player’s position early on in their development. Is third base where you feel most comfortable right now?

Well they’ve already changed me: I was a shortstop coming in,
and I got a lot bigger as I got older; I put on some weight, so they moved me to
third within my first year of pro-ball.

So how was the transition from shortstop to third?

It was tough–There [are] a lot different
angles, a lot less time for reaction–it’s just something you have to get used to,
but I’m fully adapted to it now.

What do you think the biggest differences are between the positions mentally and/or physically?

Mentally, defense… as far as an infielder… it’s all the
same: just being ready, reading the bounces–it’s pretty much the same for everyone,
but at first base and third base, it’s a lot of reaction: you get a lot of hard
hit balls; you’re playing in a lot. Shortstops you’re more back a lot of time to
react to balls.

I noticed that you batted fifth a lot in Salem. Is that where you like to bat?

I could really care less, anywhere is fine with me. I like
middle of the lineup… a lot of guys seem to be on base; you get more opportunity
for RBIs.

 


Do you adjust your approach and/or mentality depending on where you bat in the lineup?

Maybe in the first inning is the first time
it would be different just because you don’t want your first batter up there
swinging at everything because in the game, you want your bigger guys who
hit in the middle of the order, who hit for power be able to see what this guy
has on the mound. You know, first, second, maybe even third batter see a few
pitches so maybe we can see the breaking pitches or his off-speeds.


What is your opinion on small ball? It seems like suicide squeezes are kind of a dying art.

It’s very important–especially when you get to the seventh,
eighth, ninth inning, if you need to move a runner over… I think you’re right, you
don’t see the squeeze bunt much anymore mainly because a lot of third basemen years ago were a lot bigger guys; they couldn’t move as well. Now third
basemen [and] first basemen are a lot more athletic. I think they can make those plays
and get the ball home. Maybe that’s why you don’t see it as much, but sac bunts
are just as important as they have always been.

If you had to pitch against yourself, what weaknesses would you take advantage of at this point?

I know my positives: I could hit a fastball really well,
so I would attack myself with offspeed early in the count because I’m aggressive
early in the count: I look for fastballs.

What do you think fans overlook or take for granted the most?

Just the day-to-day grind. It’s tough–especially straight out
of high school it’s tough to adapt [from] being at home, being with your family,
in your comfort zone… then you’re here on your own for eight months. It’s tough, it’s
something you definitely have to get used to, but once you can get past the fact
of ‘I’m not home; I’m not going to see my family, my friends, my girlfriend… once you get
past that, and you say, ‘OK, I’m here; this is my job; this is my life now; I’m gonna
play baseball; you can focus on that, and it’s a lot of fun.



What is the biggest thing you’re working on this spring training?

Just staying consistent with my approach offensively and
defensively… my footwork defensively just getting good jumps on ballsat third base.


You have been called up a couple of times already this spring. Describe that process for us.

Normally we find out the day of, or the day before. I’ve been
lucky enough to go to four games, and I’ve started two of them, so it’s a lot of
fun. For me, I’m really just a sponge when I’m up there. I just want to soak
in everything, and see how they go about their business because ultimately,
that’s where we want to be, so just follow them, see what they’re doing, see how they
do their cage work, their defensive work before the game in BP, and just try to
change my game a little bit to how they do it.


What is the best thing you have learned so far?

Just effort level, really. You kind of have to pace yourself. With them, it’s 162 games–even more than that–just pace yourself. You cant be 100% everyday. If you have 90% to give, that’s what you give. If you push past
that, you might get hurt or you could be out for a few months.


What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Probably in Lowell my first year when we played the Futures
at Fenway, I had the walk off hit in the 12th inning, so that was a
lot of fun. I’d have to say that so far.

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