Middlebrooks not fazed by addition of Napoli

Looking to get his career back on track, corner infielder welcomes former teammate

Middlebrooks not fazed by addition of Napoli

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Add infielder Will Middlebrooks to the list of Rangers players influenced by the signing of first baseman Mike Napoli.

Middlebrooks can also be put on the list of those who are not going to let it get him down, even though he signed with Texas in November with the idea of trying to win a job as its first baseman.

"Signing Napoli, people thought it would bother me, but I couldn't be more happy," Middlebrooks said. "I played with him in Boston. He is a great teammate. As far as my role, I'm trying to be a backup infielder and be a part of the team."

Middlebrooks needs to stay healthy and show he can hit again. He was once a top prospect and rising star in the Red Sox organization until a series of injuries derailed his career. That's why he is in Rangers camp on a Minor League contract, facing an uphill battle trying to make the team.

But Middlebrooks is also the second-most experienced third baseman in camp behind Adrian Beltre, who is currently dealing with a strained calf muscle.

"The last three years have been a grind," Middlebrooks said. "It all started in 2012 when I broke my wrist, and it snowballed after that, one thing after another. Unfortunately that's the way it goes, trial and error, but you learn how to take care of your body."

Middlebrooks, replacing injured third baseman Kevin Youkilis, made his Major League debut for the Red Sox on May 2, 2012, and he was a big hit right away. He had six extra-base hits, including a grand slam, and nine RBIs in his first four games. Youkilis, a fan favorite in Boston, returned on May 23, and the Red Sox kept Middlebrooks, creating an awkward situation. Youkilis, in decline because of back issues, moved to first base for a month before being traded to the White Sox.

"It pushed me every day, but it was a good and bad thing," Middlebrooks said. "You push yourself to live up to that, but you're also a young player who has never experienced failure before you get up to the big leagues."

Middlebrooks' dream rookie season ended when he sustained a broken right wrist on Aug. 10. He has been on the disabled list five times in his short career and the Rangers are his fourth organization in four years. He is from Texarkana, Texas, so at least he is playing in his home state.

"Texas is an organization you always hate to play against, because they always find a way to win," Middlebrooks said. "I love [manager Jeff Banister] and the way he goes about his business. It starts at the top and rubs off on the whole team."

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.