The Portland Sea Dogs will start the 2009 season with two of Boston’s top five organizational prospects and plenty of experience.
“We had a lot of young guys this time last year and basically we have those same guys back,” said Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler, whose team opens its schedule at Hadlock Field next Thursday against Connecticut.
“[Aregenis] Diaz and [Jorge] Jimenez came up halfway through, but most guys already have a year in the league. It’s good in one way, but in another, the expectations will be pretty high now.”
After making their fourth straight playoff appearance and second under Beyeler last year, expectations already were high.
“These guys, that’s all they know is postseason experience,” said Beyeler, now entering his third season with Portland. “And it’s probably one of the best working groups of kids I’ve ever been around. I think the results showed that.”
Fans will recognize plenty of familiar faces with 14 players — six of them pitchers — back from last season’s roster.
Gone are top prospects like pitchers Daniel Bard and Kris Johnson and outfielder Zach Daeges — all three promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. Filling the blue-chip void are power-hitting prospect and first baseman Lars Anderson, Boston’s No. 1-ranked prospect by Baseball America; No. 5 prospect and outfielder Josh Reddick; and 22-year-old Japanese pitcher Junichi Tazawa.
Another change is the move of starting second baseman Aaron Bates to left field.
“He’s been out there the last two weeks and doing a very good job,” said Beyeler. “We have a void there as an organization and it’s an opportunity to get him some more at-bats.”
Position-wise, it looks like Anderson (.316, 5 home runs, 30 RBIs at Portland in 2008) at first, Ryan Khoury (.284, 4, 40) at second, Diaz (.288, 2, 23) at short, Jimenez (.270, 3, 22) at third, Mark Wagner (.219, 10, 48) at catcher, Reddick (.214, 6, 25) in center field, Bates (.276, 11, 68) in left, and Bubba Bell (.285, 13, 49) in right.
“On paper, you look at these guys, pretty balanced lineup that can probably do some damage from top to bottom,” Beyeler said. “Bates, Anderson, and Reddick will be in the middle of the lineup with Bell at leadoff or number three.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been any place with nine guys who can, over the course of time, be flipped completely around in the order and still be productive like these guys.”
The rest of the fielder/hitter roster includes backup catchers Juan Apodaca and Jon Still (also a backup first baseman), utility player Iggy Suarez and outfielder Reid Engel.
The rotation features two returnees in righthanders Adam Mills (0-5, 4.00 ERA) and Ryne Lawson (1-1, 4.06) plus new kids Travis Beazley (7-10, 4.68 at Single-A Lancaster), Tazawa and lone lefty Felix Dubront (12-8, 3.67 at Single-A Greenville).
“Tazawa has a good fastball and breaking ball, he’s aggressive and not afraid,” Beyeler said of the Red Sox free agent acquisition.
The bullpen includes righthanders and returning Sea Dogs T.J. Large (0-2, 1 save, 5.88), Richie Lentz (1-2, 1, 3.75), and Chad Rhoades (5-3, 2, 5.14). Large is the primary closer.
New right-handed arms include Christopher Province (9-6, 4.82 in Single-A), and Blake Maxwell (5-9, 3.32 in Single-A Lancaster). Bryce Cox (3-2, 4.30 in Single-A) returns to the Sea Dogs after last playing for them in ’07.
Lefty Dustin Richardson (7-10, 6.33) is back with Portland but is going from the starting rotation to the bullpen this year.
“We’ve had more turnover in pitching than in other areas,” said Beyeler. “But we have Mills and Lawson back in the starting rotation, so we’ll probably be better than we finished last year, and that was a playoff team.”
Beyeler is excited about the potential of his new team, not just in terms of team performance, but also in terms of the individual talent being developed in the Red Sox organization.
“We released some good players today who’ve been in the organization four or five or six years and they’ll probably resurface with other organizations because we have so many good young prospects,” the ninth-year minor league manager said Thursday after Portland’s roster was picked.
Despite plenty of sunshine and balmy temperatures the last couple months in Fort Myers, Fla., Beyeler is excited about returning to chilly Portland.
“I’m just looking forward to getting up there,” he said. “It kind of seems like the middle of winter, but to still see all the fans come out because they’re so ready for baseball is unique. We’re just sitting there like ‘Are you kidding me?’ It’s cool and it’s pretty exciting.”
Besides, Beyeler was tired of nursing sunburns.
“We’ll freeze for a month or so and be lucky if we get half our games in the first month, but then we’ll start rock and rolling and get our work in every day,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun when the lights are on and people are watching you.
“It’s better than when it’s 85 to 90 and muggy and you can’t hardly breathe, and there’s maybe six people watching you play.”