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.

Joe Girardi steps down as manager of USA Baseball

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Baseball is an Olympic sport once again and USA Baseball begins the road to qualifying for the 2020 Games in just a couple of weeks. They’ll be doing it with a new manager, though, as current team USA manager Joe Girardi has stepped down from the role in order to concentrate on his quest to return to managing in the big leagues.

Girardi has interviewed for the Cubs job already and is candidate for the openings with the Mets and the Phillies. His stepping down from the Olympic job suggests that he thinks he stands a pretty good chance of getting one of the seven current openings around the game. Or, at the very least, that he wishes to show clubs with openings that he’s serious.

Girardi will be replaced by Scott Brosius, who was poised to be Girardi’s bench coach with Team USA.

The team begins training in Arizona on October 21. It begins playing qualifier games in early November in Mexico. Eventually, the 2020 Olympic Games will feature a six-nation field.