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Minor league notebook

Prospect furnished with polish

Middlebrooks has added some shine to his game

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / July 8, 2011

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At 6 feet 4 inches, 200 pounds, Will Middlebrooks is a physical presence at third base for the Double A Portland Sea Dogs.

“He’s really starting to stand out in the field,’’ said manager Kevin Boles. “He’s gotten bigger and stronger, but the balance at the plate now is really starting to move forward. Obviously, we all know about the raw physical tools, but he’s starting to polish up a little bit. It’s really starting to come forward and people are starting to pay attention to him now.’’

Middlebrooks, a 22-year-old native of Greenville, Texas, made everyone take notice in a sweep Tuesday night of Binghamton, going 7 for 9 with three runs and six RBIs.

“This is a kid with plus bat speed, above-average raw power, and this is a kid who’s going to develop physically,’’ Boles said. “It’s just a mental approach to his game that’s gotten really advanced now. He studies the pitchers and he has really good routines at this point and all the homework he’s put in is really starting to pay off.’’

Middlebrooks dazzled in the 15-5 nightcap at Binghamton, going 5 for 5 with three runs and three RBIs, including a two-run homer (his fifth of the season). The performance came less than a week after Middlebrooks came off the disabled list (strained right triceps) after rehabbing four games with short-season Single A Lowell.

“To come off an injury like that, normally there’s a little rust,’’ Boles said. “But we got some quality at-bats in Lowell and we were paying attention to what was going on in Lowell and felt it was time. We felt he had gotten better, and when he got here we slotted him right into the lineup and he took off.

“Sometimes, when guys are coming back, they try to do a little too much. He trusted himself, he trusted his approach and he trusted the work that he put in, and he got himself right back into a groove and it’s been fun to watch.’’

After going 2 for 5 in yesterday’s 10-4 victory at Binghamton, Middlebrooks is hitting a team-leading .322. He is one of five Portland players selected to play in Eastern League All-Star Game Wednesday in Manchester, N.H., along with outfielders Alex Hassan and Chih-Hsien Chiang and pitchers Stephen Fife and Alex Wilson.

Middlebrooks and Chiang were also chosen to play in the Futures Game Sunday as part of the All-Star festivities in Phoenix. Middlebrooks will play for the US contingent, while Chiang, a native of Taiwan, will play for the World squad.

“I think recognition from your peers is definitely a plus for him,’’ Boles said of Middlebrooks, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2007 draft.

“He’s a guy who’s come a long way in a short amount of time these last three years, but people are starting to really recognize what kind of player he could potentially be,’’ Boles said. “He’s a very confident person, and getting that recognition, whether it’s making the Futures Game or making the All-Star team, is only going to help him because he has a chance to be a quality major league player someday.’’

June boon Chiang was named EL Player of the Month for June. The 23-year-old hit .320 in 27 games, leading the league in home runs (7), RBIs (27), slugging percentage (.680), OPS (1.071), and total bases (68).

“He’s shown better balance at the plate than what we’ve seen in the past,’’ said Boles. “Sometimes early on, having seen him in years past, he was looking like the step-swing type of approach. But now he’s getting the lower half established and he can drive balls to all fields.’’

Chiang homered in four straight games to tie a franchise record, and clubbed two grand slams (June 5 at Altoona and June 25 at New Hampshire), to give him three with the Sea Dogs.

Chiang hit safely in 21 of 27 games last month, but his contributions weren’t limited to offense.

“His defense in the outfield has greatly improved,’’ Boles said. “He’s starting to move around and read swings. His arm strength has increased with his accuracy and this is another guy who’s starting to come into his own and we’re starting to like how he’s developed.’’

Welcome result Felix Doubront, who has spent a lot of time in the trainer’s room at McCoy Stadium this season, picked up his first win of 2011 in Pawtucket’s 2-0 victory Wednesday night at Syracuse. Doubront (1-3, 3.38 ERA) shut out the Chiefs over seven innings, allowing just four hits and two walks while recording four strikeouts. He threw 108 pitches, 62 for strikes . . . The PawSox generated all their offense Wednesday on homers by Lars Anderson in the second inning (his seventh of the season) and Luis Exposito in the fifth (his fifth) . . . High Single A Salem recorded their fourth straight victory Wednesday night, a 3-2 triumph over Wilmington that evened Salem’s second-half record at 7-7 after an 0-5 start. Derrik Gibson had three hits, including an RBI double in the seventh to break a 2-2 tie . . . Salem has 93 stolen bases, second most in the Carolina League behind Potomac. It’s a vast improvement over last year, when Salem had only 89 steals all season, second fewest in the league. Peter Hissey leads the team with 20 steals, while Jeremy Hazelbaker and Gibson each have 12. Kolbrin Vitek and Shannon Wilkerson are each 10 for 10 in stolen base attempts as Salem ranks as the only Carolina League team with five players with double-digit steals.

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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