June 5, 2011

On Baseball: It's obvious he has the ability, but now he's learning to trust it

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Will Middlebrooks, like most young ballplayers, has faced adjustments while making the jump to a pro career. But he s learning not to overreact to every little setback or failure.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Will Middlebrooks

It has been a process. For the last three seasons, Middlebrooks has been managed by Kevin Boles -- in Class A Greenville, advanced Class A Salem and now Portland.

"When he was younger, he'd have a tough night and it would carry into the next night," Boles said. "But he's matured quite a bit and has been able to turn the page real quickly.

"Having some failure or having a tough game or a string a tough games builds a little bit of character ... some toughness.

"For these guys to be mentally tough, to play at Fenway Park someday, we expect there are going to be ups and downs. It's how they handle it.

"Do they push through and fight or does the guy feel sorry for himself? He's definitely a fighter, one of those guys who wants to improve and keep working at it."

The improvement continues as Middlebrooks hits better every season, each year at a higher level. His strikeout ratio, once an issue, keeps declining, down to 41 times out of 158 plate appearances, so far this season.

The improvement is a result of work and commitment. In spring training every morning at 7 a.m., before the scheduled workouts began, he met with Joppie in the batting cage.

"Put together some solid routines," Joppie said. "He's starting to trust his abilities a lot more."

In the field, Middlebrooks, a shortstop in high school, looks more and more comfortable.

Middlebrooks jumped out with a .347 average and four home runs in April. That pace has slowed, but without much analysis from Middlebrooks.

"The past two weeks I know I have not been hitting the ball well. But I know that's baseball," he said. "These pitchers are here for a reason. They know how to get you out. They're not just 16-year-old kids throwing fastballs to you."

And neither is Middlebrooks an 18-year-old clubbing those fastballs at will. He's now a pro, growing up, seeing baseball as both a game and career.

"I worked my tail off to be prepared physically and mentally," he said. "Just being able to stay positive, have fun and realize it's still a game."

Even when you fly out with a runner in scoring position.

Think Middlebrooks learned his lesson?

In that Monday game, Middlebrooks batted again in the third inning with a runner on base. Middlebrooks took another cut and watched the ball clear the center-field wall.

"He's getting stronger," Joppie said. "He's getting a lot more confident. His tools are coming to the forefront.

"He has a very good chance to be a very special player."

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:


Twitter: ClearTheBases


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