In 2005, the opening-day roster for the Portland Sea Dogs of the AA Eastern League included second baseman Dustin Pedroia, shortstop Hanley Ramirez and pitchers Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon.
All have gone on to become stars in the major leagues. Pedroia, Lester and Papelbon helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 2007, and Pedroia and Lester teamed up again to lead the Red Sox to last year’s World Series title.
Sea Dogs President Charlie Eshbach and Chris Cameron, assistant general manager/media relations director, said this season’s Sea Dogs roster is comparable to the 2005 roster.
Portland will play its home opener against the New Britain Rock Cats at 6p.m. Thursday at Hadlock Field.
“It’s right up there,” said Eshbach, who has been with the Sea Dogs since its inception in 1994. “There is definitely quality there.”
Cameron said in terms of prospects, “This is one of the most stacked rosters we’ve had in quite some time.
“Last year, we had a pitching-heavy team and didn’t have much on the offensive side. This year, we have a real good mixture,” said Cameron.
The roster includes three of the top seven prospects in the Red Sox organization as rated by Baseball America. All are off to fast starts.
Twenty-one-year-old left-hander Henry Owens, the No. 2 prospect and top-ranked pitching prospect, tossed a six-inning no-hitter on opening day in Reading. It was the third no-hitter in franchise history and first since the Red Sox became its major league affiliate in 2003.
The Florida Marlins had been the parent club from 1994-2003.
Owens struck out nine, walked two and didn’t allow a ball to be hit out of the infield. He was scheduled to pitch in Trenton on Wednesday for the 2-3 Sea Dogs.
Catcher Blake Swihart, the No. 5 prospect who turned 22 earlier this month, took a .467 average into the Trenton game. Second baseman Mookie Betts, 21, the No. 7 prospect, was hitting .474 prior to Wednesday’s game.
Cameron said the 6-foot-6 Owens was rated by Baseball America to have, “the best change-up in the Red Sox organization” last summer.
Switch-hitter Swihart was chosen the Red Sox minor league defensive player of the year, and Betts was the team’s minor league offensive player of the year after hitting .314 between Greenville (low Class A) and Salem (high A) a year ago with 36 doubles, 15 home runs, 65 RBIs and 38 stolen bases.
Betts homered in his first AA at-bat against Reading.
Three other Sea Dogs were also rated among the top 30 prospects: shortstop Deven Marrero (No. 15), first baseman Travis Shaw (No. 26) and third baseman/second baseman Sean Coyle (No. 30). The slick-fielding Marrero was a first-round draft pick in 2012.
The Sea Dogs also have three players who are sons of former major leaguers in outfielder Bo Greenwell (son of former Red Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell), catcher Mike Brenly (son of Bob Brenly) and Shaw (son of Jeff Shaw). Bob Brenly was a catcher, and Jeff Shaw was a relief ace.
Former Salem manager Billy McMillion, who played for the Sea Dogs in 1995, has been elevated to manager as Kevin Boles was promoted to manage the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox. He picked up his 300th managerial win against Reading in the opener.
“He’s a real good guy. We’re very happy to have him,” said Eshbach.
Eshbach and Cameron said ticket sales are up approximately 10 percent over last year thanks to the bump received from the Red Sox winning the World Series.
“Last year [at this time], we felt a little angst from the bad year the Red Sox had. But, this year, the joy is still out there,” said Eshbach. “We also have a much friendlier schedule because we don’t have as many early-spring games. That’s kind of nice.”
Portland had 20 home games through May 8 in 2013 but has only 15 this season.
The Sea Dogs have also added a 17-by-53-foot video board in left-center field, which is three times the size of the former video board. There also is a pitch type and pitch count board in right field.
The home-opener ceremonies will include a tribute to Sea Dogs Hall of Famer Bill Troubh, who passed away in November.
Troubh, a former Portland city councilman and mayor, played a significant role in bringing the Sea Dogs to Portland in 1994. He served as the president of the Eastern League from 1997-2002.
Members of his family will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and the South Portland High School marching band will play the national anthem. Gates open at 4 p.m Thursday.