Last season was supposed to be Will Middlebrooks' coronation as the team's third baseman of the future.
Things didn't really go according to plan as Middlebrooks struggled and was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. He returned later in the season and, though he showed improvement, he found himself on the bench, watching as Xander Bogaerts claimed the postseason spotlight.
A player in that situation has two options: turn bitter and curse your lot, or use it as motivation and become a better player.
Middlebrooks seems to have chosen the latter. In talking with the young infielder, it's obvious that he's learned a lot from last season's disappointment and is ready to turn it into a driving force in 2014.
"Do I have more motivation, more goals, more intensity? I think so," says Middlebrooks.
The veteran leadership that enabled the Red Sox to complete a worst-to-first turnaround and secure a World Series title was also key in helping Middlebrooks through his difficult season.
"As tough of a year as it was for me," says Middlebrooks, "getting texts and calls from these guys help[ed] lift my spirits."
Even after returning from Triple-A, Middlebrooks found himself playing witness to his team's run to a championship.
"In the World Series I happened to be a bench player and that’s where you learn to be a good teammate and you can’t be selfish," says Middlebrooks. "It’s about the team, it’s about the group of guys that you grinded through the whole season with. You can’t worry about yourself."
Last spring Middlebrooks had a noticeable swagger, a player on the verge of breaking out and claiming his spot as a franchise cornerstone for years to come. But this spring he appears more humble and focused; a definite change in his daily approach.
"You need to be at the top of your game every day," says Middlebrooks. "You’re not going to be every day but your effort level should be."
He acknowledges that he's grown a lot over the last year.
"That just comes with failing and having your face pushed down in the dirt. It’s tough at the time and it’s awful, but when you can reflect on the past year, the past struggles it really has made me not only a better athlete and baseball player but person in general."
If this new focus and maturity translates into on-field performance, then perhaps last season's struggles will have been a blessing in disguise.