Will Middlebrooks hopes new contact lenses are the key to success in 2014

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Will Middlebrooks was a consensus top-100 prospect going into the 2012 season and he did not disappoint, blasting 15 home runs with an .835 OPS in 286 plate appearances in the big leagues. He wasn’t nearly as good last season, slashing .227/.271/.425. As it turns out, Middlebrooks’ deteriorating vision might have been at least partially to blame for the lack of offensive output.

As Brian MacPherson writes for the Providence Journal, the Red Sox found this spring that Middlebrooks was seeing 20-25 in his right eye and 20-30 in his left. It’s nothing serious, but having his vision corrected with contact lenses allowed him to once again see the spin on the ball.

“For everyday life, you’d never correct it,” he said. “But for what I do, you need to be able to see the little things. Once I put them in, I could really see the spin on the ball. I was always just reading trajectory of the ball. I was never seeing the spin.”

Middlebrooks was careful not to use his vision as a crutch, explaining why he wasn’t so good last season. The 25-year-old third baseman said, “I wasn’t consistent with my approach and my way of thinking at the plate. That has nothing to do with my vision. That’s just decision-making. But it’s easier when you can see things.”

With Stephen Drew gone, prospect Xander Bogaerts takes over everyday at shortstop, leaving Middlebrooks with plenty of playing time at third base. The Red Sox hope that the opportunity along with the enhanced vision translates to a big season for Middlebrooks.

Reds having Michael Lorenzen prepare as a two-way player

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For decades, a legitimate “two-way player” — a player who functions as both a pitcher and as a position player — was nothing but a fantasy. The skill sets required for both are too distinct and require too much prep work, it was thought. The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani shattered that illusion in 2018, posting a .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances as a hitter while posting a 3.31 ERA in 51 2/3 innings as a pitcher.

Since then, several more players have been considered in two-way roles. The Rangers signed Matt Davidson earlier this month and could potentially use him as a corner infielder as well as a reliever. Also earlier this month, James Loney signed with the independent Atlantic League’s Sugar Land Skeeters, who plan to use him as both a first baseman and as a pitcher.

You can add Michael Lorenzen of the Reds to that list. MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports that the Reds will have Lorenzen prepare this spring as a two-way player. He could both start and relieve while occasionally playing in the outfield. Lorenzen, in fact, took batting practice with the outfielders on Thursday. Previously, he had taken batting practice as extra work following a workout with fellow pitchers.

Lorenzen said, “It’s fantastic, the effort they’re putting in. A lot of the excuses were, ‘You know, we don’t want to overwork him.’ Well, let’s just sit down and talk about it then. They were willing to sit down and talk about it, which is one of the reasons why I love this staff so much and why I think the front office did a great job [hiring] this staff. They’re willing to find solutions for problems.”

New manager David Bell said, “We’ve put together a plan for the whole spring, knowing we can adjust it at any time. We didn’t want to go into each day not knowing what he’s going to do. We all felt better, he did, too. He was part of putting it together.”

Lorenzen, 27, pitched 81 innings last year with a 3.11 ERA and a 54/34 K/BB ratio. He’s one of baseball’s best-hitting pitchers as well. Last year, he swatted four homers and knocked in 10 runs in 34 trips to the plate. The last pitcher to hit at least four homers in a season was the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, who did it in both 2014 (four) and 2015 (five). Lorenzen also posted a 1.043 OPS. According to Baseball Reference, there have been only 11 pitchers to OPS over 1.000 (min. 30 PA). The only ones to do it in the 2000’s are Lorenzen last year, Micah Owings in 2007 (1.033) and Dontrelle Willis in 2011 (1.032).