PORTLAND, Maine — The Class AA Eastern League’s Portland Sea Dogs will open their 20th season Thursday night against the Trenton Thunder with plenty of optimism.
“We’ve got a very talented club, especially on the mound,” said third-year Sea Dogs manager Kevin Boles. “We will have a quality [starting] rotation.”
“The pitching staff is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been in the Red Sox organization,” said highly touted shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who played for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.
“We will have a number of power arms coming at you day in and day out,” said pitching coach Bob Kipper. “It’s an exciting pitching staff. Let’s face facts. It’s a talented pitching staff. We do bring some experience with a guy like [Blake] Britton, who was here last year, and Brandon Workman, who pitched here the last month. Kyle Kaminska has been around and brings us some experience in our rotation. Matt Barnes will come here for the first time and Anthony Ranaudo pitched here last year but had his health issues that he dealt with which limited his innings.”
Lefty Britton, who will get the opening-day start, was 4-7 with a 3.72 ERA last season and struck out 76 in 84 2/3 innings after being called up from Salem. He gave up just three homers in Portland.
Workman was 3-1 with a 3.96 ERA and fanned 23 in 25 innings. He was 7-7, 3.40 at Class A Salem, N.C., before being called up.
Kaminska pitched for four teams last season, including AA Altoona, Pa., (1-0, 3.00 in 12 innings) and was obtained in a trade.
Barnes was 7-5 with 133 strikeouts in 119 2/3 innings between Salem and Single-A Greenville, S.C., and Ranaudo was 1-3, 6.69 in 37 2/3 innings while being slowed by groin and arm injuries.
“It’s going to be awesome,” said Britton. “We’ve all come up together the past couple of years, and we have great chemistry right off the bat. We feed so well off each other. It’s going to be exciting.”
Barnes said, “We’ve got a lot of guys who have been here before and a lot of guys with a ton of talent. It’s going to be exciting to see what we’ve got this year. I think we’ve got a good team and we can do some damage in this league.”
Former Boston Red Sox setup man Daniel Bard, who is trying to regain his velocity and consistency after the Red Sox experimented with him as a starter last season, will head up the bullpen.
“I’m very confident he’ll regain his dominance,” said Kipper.
Bard was 5-6 with a 6.22 ERA in Boston and 3-2 with a 7.03 ERA in Pawtucket.
Brock Huntzinger (4-5, 3.93, 6 saves) and Chris Martin (3-4, 4.48) will return while Miguel Celestino (7-9, 4.68), Keith Couch (11-9, 3.46) and Pete Ruiz (5-2, 3.14) have been promoted from Salem. Will Latimer, who pitched for Salem, Portland and AAA Pawtucket a year ago and was a combined 4-6, is the only lefty out of the pen.
“The [bullpen] roles will shake out [as the season progresses],” said Boles.
“There are a lot of good arms on the staff,” said Huntzinger.
Offensively, Huntzinger said the Sea Dogs have a blend of power hitters and speed.
Bogaerts hit .302 with 15 homers and 64 runs batted in for Salem before being called up to Portland, where he hit .326 with five homers and 17 RBIs in just 23 games.
“He is a special talent,” said Boles.
Michael Almanzar (.300-12-54, 10 stolen bases with Salem), Travis Shaw (.305-16-73 Salem, .227-3-12 Portland) and Kolbrin Vitek (.242-1-10 Portland, .250 with Lowell) will alternate between third base, first base and designated hitter, according to Boles.
Heiker Meneses (.197-1-10 Portland, .272-2-32,18 stolen bases Salem) will be the second baseman, and the outfield will consist of Shannon Wilkerson in center (.269-4-42, 29 steals Salem, .264-0-6 Portland), Tony Thomas in left (.242-10-30 Pawtucket) and Peter Hissey in right (.250-1-27 Portland).
Christian Vazquez (.205-0-5 Portland, .266-7-41 Salem) will catch.
Alberto Rosario and Matt Spring will also see duty behind the plate, Ryan Dent and Derrik Gibson will see infield service and Ronald Bermudez will see time in the outfield.
“We’ve got a mixed bag [of veterans and young players] and one thing I really like is we have a lot of versatility,” said Boles. “We have a lot of guys who can move around and play different positions.
“We like our guys. We have a lot of talent,” he added.