Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis has to be lucky that he's putting his slow start in the rearview mirror since third base prospect Will Middlebrooks continues to climb organizational ladder.
Youkilis is turning the corner with a .333 average (5 for 15) and three RBI in his last four games coming into Sunday. If he continued to slump, then the whispers would have begun about a potential ETA for Middlebrooks, who is now considered one of the team's top prospects following a breakout 2011 season. Heck, the whispers still might happen even if Youkilis continues to play well.
Through Saturday, Middlebrooks is batting .359 with three homers and nine RBI in 10 games for Triple-Pawtucket. While his numbers look good, Middlebrooks still has some areas he needs to improve.
The scouts biggest critique of the burgeoning third baseman is that he needs to be more selective at the plate. He's very aggressive and doesn't draw a lot of walks. The trade-off for him is that his power swing continues to develop, but his ceiling as a hitter in the majors might be as a high .200 hitter. He does have good opposite field power, however.
Despite the hot start, probably only an injury to Youkilis would bring Middlebrooks to the majors. He still a candidate for a 2012 recall, but if everyone stays healthy, then that might not come until the second half of the season. But the fact Middlebrooks continues to mature as a hitter has made him a legit long-term Fantasy keeper in all formats.
It's worth noting that the Red Sox own a $13 million team option on Youkilis for next season, so if Boston thinks Middlebrooks is ready, then the front office could have a tough decision on its hands in the offseason.