FORT MYERS, Fla. — Ready to make room for a second Eastern League championship trophy?

OK, so maybe it’s a little too early for Portland Sea Dogs fans to start thinking that way.

But the Sea Dogs roster, announced Friday by the Boston Red Sox player development office, is loaded.

According to Baseball America’s rankings of the best Red Sox prospects, 10 of the top 26 are headed to Portland.

“A lot of priority players,” Sea Dogs Manager Arnie Beyeler said by phone as he began his drive from Fort Myers, Fla., to Portland. “It will be a lot of fun to watch these guys play. I’m very excited.”

While Beyeler admits his players are “very talented,” he also cautions that “we’re very young.”

Among the top players headed this way are pitcher Casey Kelly, 20; shortstop Jose Iglesias, 20; outfielder Ryan Kalish, 22; and first baseman Lars Anderson, 22.

Kelly, a first-round draft pick in 2008, is No. 2 on the team’s prospect list, according to Baseball America.

Kelly played shortstop in his first professional season, then was a pitcher for the first half of the 2009 season before moving back to shortstop. This year, he’ll pitch full time. Because he has only 95 innings on a professional mound, he will be groomed slowly on a tight pitch count. He may average only three innings a start at the beginning of the season.

With Kelly limited, the Sea Dogs are carrying six starters. Eammon Portice, a starter in advanced Class A Salem last year, will likely pitch in relief of Kelly.

The staff ace is left-hander Felix Doubront, 22, the Sea Dogs pitcher of the year last season (3.35 ERA).

Ryne Miller, Kyle Weiland and Stephen Fife round out the starting rotation.

Miller, 24, was a late-season promotion from Salem and started the transition from reliever to starter. He was invited to the exclusive Red Sox rookie development camp in January, along with Kelly, Doubront and Weiland.

Weiland, 23, a third-round draft pick out of Notre Dame in 2008, recorded a 3.49 ERA in 26 starts at Salem.

Fife, 23, was drafted a round before Weiland, out of the University of Utah. He split time between Class A Greenville (2.70) and Salem (4.44) in 2009.

The bullpen will feature two veteran lefties, Tommy Hottovy, 28, and Andrew Dobies, 26. Both pitched on Portland’s only Eastern League title team in 2006 but have battled injuries since.

Bryce Cox and former starter Ryne Lawson also return.

The new relievers include Robert Coello and Jason Rice. Coello, 25, was drafted by the Reds as a catcher in 2004. He began pitching in 2007 and had a 2.05 ERA last year at Salem. Rice, 23, had a 2.44 ERA in 41 games at Salem.

Blake Maxwell, who relieved and started for the Sea Dogs last year, was moved down to Class A and will begin the season with Salem.

Prime prospect Luis Exposito, 23, will be the No. 1 catcher after batting .337 in 23 games with Portland. Juan Apodaca, 23, returns as the back-up catcher.

Jon Still, 25, is listed as a catcher on the roster but is more likely to be a designated hitter and back-up first baseman.

Iglesias is the big name in the field after signing a four-year, $8.25 million contract. He performed well in major league spring training camp and is on the radar to be in Fenway Park someday.

Yamaico Navarro, 22, another shortstop prospect, will move to third base.

Anderson, 22, is hoping to rebound from a .233 average last year.

Nate Spears, 24, a minor league free agent who played in Triple-A for the Cubs last year, will be at second base. Ray Change, 26, another minor league free agent, is the utility infielder.

Ryan Khoury, Portland’s utility infielder the past two years, was promoted to Triple-A.

The outfield features three returning players and two newcomers from Taiwan. Ryan Kalish, 22, was invited to major league spring training this year. Jason Place, 21, a first-round draft pick in 2006, batted .262 last year. Matt Sheely, 23, split time between Salem and Portland last season.

Of the two Taiwanese players, Che-Hsuan Lin, 21, is considered the best prospect because of his fielding. He will start in center. Chih-Hsien Chiang, 22, moved from the infield to the outfield last year. When he’s not in the field, he will get at-bats as a designated hitter.

The current roster has 25 players, although the roster limit is 24. One player will be moved to the inactive list.

The Sea Dogs play their first game Thursday in Reading, Pa. Their home opener is April 15 at 6 p.m. against the Trenton Thunder.

 

NOTE: Former Sea Dogs infielder Jeff Natale, 27, was released by the Red Sox. He spent the past two seasons in Pawtucket.

 

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

kthomas@pressherald.com