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Will Middlebrooks at shortstop? In case of emergency, break glass

05.31.12 at 8:42 pm ET
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The Red Sox are wildly shorthanded in their infield right now, at a time when Dustin Pedroia is on the roster but injured and, barring catastrophe, unavailable. And so, just as was the case with the experiment of putting Adrian Gonzalez in right field, the Sox are exploring creative options to cover themselves in case of injury.

Specifically, the team plans to see if Will Middlebrooks — whom the Sox drafted as a shortstop but moved just before the start of the 2008 season in Lowell to third — can be an emergency shortstop. In that scenario, Middlebrooks would play short while Mike Aviles would cross the bag to play second, a position where he has played 142 big league games.

It’s only an emergency measure and an insurance policy that the Sox hope not to cash, but still, it’s interesting to consider the last time that Middlebrooks played short. By Middlebrooks’ recollection, he was moved off the position after the conclusion of extended spring training, about three days before he was slated to begin his first meaningful professional assignment with the Lowell Spinners.

How did Middlebrooks look at the position?

“He was a shortstop and couldn’€™t catch anything at short,” said Greenville Drive manager Carlos Febles, who worked with Middlebrooks, then 19, in extended spring training that year. “And he was just swinging and missing everything.”

Middlebrooks had spent his entire baseball playing life at short (when not pitching), and so it would have been easy to assume that a player who grew up idolizing Cal Ripken would struggle to adapt. But Middlebrooks said that he was more than open to the idea of changing positions.

“I had already bought into what they wanted me to do. If they had told me to catch, I would have said, ‘€˜OK,’€™ ” said Middlebrooks. “It was tough just because I didn’€™t know what to expect. It was the unknown. But with [Lowell manager Gary DiSarcina, he helped me so much.”

It took Middlebrooks (who was out of the lineup on Thursday night, getting a day off with the Sox trying to maximize their left-handed hitters in the lineup) some time to adapt, but after spending 2009 in Greenville, he felt he could hold his own defensively at the position. He saw continued strides in 2010 in High-A Salem, and then last year in Double-A Portland, Middlebrooks said, “It was like, OK, now I’m a third baseman.”

Even so, though third base is now where he’s comfortable, Middlebrooks said that he was more than willing to prepare to play other positions.

“It hadn’€™t really come up. But if they say jump, I’€™ll say how high, so we’€™ll see,” said Middlebrooks. “If I had to fill in for one day for someone, and I’€™m an extra guy today and I have to fill in for somebody, I’€™ll fill in. Still gotta play baseball. Still gotta catch the ball. Positioning would be different, but I’€™d have people to help me with that.”

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