FORT MYERS, Fla. — Had the Portland Sea dogs remained a Florida Marlins affiliate, we would no doubt be receiving Jeremy Hermida bobbleheads at Hadlock Field this season.

Hermida, now the Boston Red Sox’s fourth outfielder, was one of the best of a long list of Marlins prospects.

A $2 million signing out of high school in 2002, Hermida reached Double-A in 2005. The Sea Dogs had switched from the Marlins to the Red Sox in 2003, so Hermida did his Double-A duty with the Carolina Mudcats.

He batted .293 that year with 29 doubles, 18 home runs and 111 walks. His OPS was .975 (.518 slugging percentage and .457 on-base percentage).

Solid numbers. Florida promoted Hermida to the majors that year for 23 games. In his first major league at-bat, Hermida hit a grand slam, last done on a first at-bat in 1898.

Hermida became a big-league starter in 2006 and broke out in 2007 with a .296 average, 18 home runs and an .870 OPS, accomplished at the age of 23.

A star in the making?

That’s where the mystery of our story begins, and how the Red Sox got Hermida for next to nothing.

The average dropped to .249 in 2008, and back up slightly to .259 last year. He hit a total of 30 home runs with 108 RBI over the two years. He missed a few games with muscle strains but showed no reason for the decline.

Hermida, 26, knows he hasn’t lived up to the high expectations, but only offers that it hasn’t worked out. He generally avoids the subject.

When the Marlins played the Red Sox on Thursday, Hermida was asked if Florida’s presence was a reminder of how his career has gone.

Hermida answered that “it was good to see the guys.”

Asked if he had hopes of better years after 2007, Hermida said, “progression is something every players wants.”

But the progression didn’t happen in Hermida’s case. The thrifty Marlins, always looking to cut payroll, traded Hermida to Boston for two nonprospect pitchers, Hunter Jones and Jose Alvarez.

The Red Sox signed Hermida to a $3.3 million one-year contract. He won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season.

Hermida provides Boston with a capable backup and maybe more.

“I can see where he’ll be one of our guys who hits a lot,” Manager Terry Francona said.

Boston has tried to squeeze production out of high-potential players before (see Wily Mo Pena) without success. But they’ve also hit the jackpot (see David Ortiz).

Although Hermida is a backup, he still may get his chances because the Red Sox outfield includes the sometimes fragile J.D. Drew, 34, and 37-year-old Mike Cameron, who doesn’t bat well against right-handed pitching (.244 last year).

“If J.D. goes down or we want to give Cam a day off he’s a nice left-handed bat,” Francona said. “And he’s had a good spring.”

Hermida is batting .447 (16 for 37) with a 1.100 OPS in spring training.

But during the year, Hermida will be asked to produce while playing only a few days a week.

“I don’t think the transition will be too difficult,” Hermida said. “You take that role (as a backup). You don’t get upset about it. You do the best you can at it and prepare yourself on a daily basis.

“You never know when you’re going to be in there over the course of a season.

“You never know what happens.”

Even those with the Marlins believe Hermida can succeed in this new role.

“He could do it. He’s that good of a hitter,” Florida Manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

“He almost hit .300 that year (2007). It’s there. It’s in the tank.”

But how can Hermida get back to that 2007 form? How can he improve from the past two years?

Hermida offers no specifics. But to be fair, there are no simple answers.

Instead, Hermida gives himself a pep talk.

“You have to come out here with a purpose every day,” he said. “Take pride, look at yourself in the mirror and make sure you’re doing it on a daily basis.

“That’s all you can ask of yourself.”

Hermida sounds like a man trying to shed sky-high expectations and simply be a good ballplayer.

And that’s all the Red Sox can want.

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:

[email protected]