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Will Middlebrooks proving wise beyond his years

03.06.12 at 12:13 pm ET

FORT MYERS, Fla. — It is one thing to hear about the top prospect in the Red Sox system. It is another to see him.

Suffice it to say that third baseman Will Middlebrooks has made an extremely favorable first impression on Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine. In his first two Grapefruit League games, the 23-year-old has three hits in four at-bats, but more than the results, Valentine has been impressed by the 2007 fifth-rounder’s approach at the plate.

“His offensive acumen is well beyond his years,” said Valentine. “He’€™ll see a pitcher that he’€™s seen before and be able to pull down that menu of pitches he throws, understand the speed, the angles, the programs that a pitcher uses to try to get a hitter out, or at least what he experienced in the past. Some guys have little books. He might have a book but he carries it around in his brain.

“We all know what that does. That just allows you to recognize a little earlier,” added Valentine. “He’€™s probably seen hundreds of pitchers and hundreds of pitchers who throw different pitches. To categorize them, organized in your mind, it’€™s a skill set. It takes time. You don’€™t just go to Staples and buy the program, buy the folder and it’€™s with you all the time. It takes time.”

Valentine suggested that it’s usually not until a few years in the big leagues that players develop that sort of understanding of opposing pitchers. That being the case, Middlebrooks — who has played four pro seasons, spending approximately one month in Triple-A at the end of last year — would appear to be ahead of his years.

In 116 minor league games last year, Middlebrooks hit .385 with a .328 OBP, .506 slugging mark, .834 OPS, 23 homers and 94 RBI. He is slated to open 2012 with Pawtucket.

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