PORTLAND – Reporters bumped into each other in the Portland Sea Dogs’ clubhouse for the annual media day Tuesday.

Some lockers got more crowded than others, with microphones surrounding the faces of pitcher Casey Kelly and shortstop Jose Iglesias.

They and a number of other Sea Dogs arrived in Portland earlier this week with the prospect label boldly attached to their resumes.

Can’t miss?

We’ll see.

For now it’s only a label.

Bryce Cox knows all about the hype. Cox, 25, is back in Portland, where he pitched last year and in 2007.

Cox was once a prime prospect. A third-round draft pick out of Rice in 2006, Cox made headlines that year at the lower levels. He allowed only three earned runs over 30 innings.

In 2007, Cox began his first full pro season with Double-A Portland.

Baseball America ranked Cox as the Red Sox’s seventh-best prospect in 2007 and teased Boston fans with this comment: “If he keeps pitching like this, though, he could reach Boston by the end of the summer.”

Expectations were high and Cox figured he had to achieve them.

It didn’t work, and now Cox knows better.

“Right now I’m just trying to take a step back from trying to be the best pitcher in the world,” Cox said, “I just want to get outs and see where that takes me.”

Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper nodded his head when retold Cox’s quote.

“That’s a mature comment,” Kipper said. “When he came into professional baseball, he took the world by storm. He had a lot of success right away.

“What comes along with success are expectations, and he stumbled for a couple of years.”

Cox didn’t last long in Portland in 2007. After nine games, a 4.91 ERA and 11 walks in 14 innings, Cox was demoted. He pitched the rest of the year and all of 2008 in Class A.

“I just got off track and really couldn’t get back to where I wanted to be as a pitcher, and do what I’m capable of doing,” Cox said.

Cox lost control of his fastball and slider. And when a pitcher can’t locate pitches, he becomes wild or gets hit.

The fix didn’t come right away. Cox slowly came back to form. He spent all last season in Portland, compiling a 2.88 ERA, with 37 strikeouts and 28 walks over 56 innings.

“I was able to stay consistent for the most part and not have the peaks and valleys I’ve had,” Cox said.

“I just got a little more comfortable with my delivery, and just a year or two more to mature as a pitcher.

“I don’t think it’s one or two things that helped. Just a bunch of things.”

He continued his progress in spring training.

“He’s throwing the ball really well and is around the plate,” said Mike Hazen, the Red Sox player development director, last week in Fort Myers, Fla. “That’s a good sign.”

The other week in Fort Myers, Kipper was beaming over a Cox outing.

“He was the highlight of the game,” Kipper said. “He made quick work of six batters, very efficient with 25 pitches.”

Cox hopes to bolster that efficiency. His WHiP (walks/hits per innings) last year was a bit high (1.633) as he kept pitching out of jams.

So Cox has returned to Portland, where he once was hyped and is now just quietly working back to form, and up the ladder.

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]