FORT MYERS, Fla. – The ball jumped off Jason Place’s bat, looking like a line drive headed for the outfield. Maybe extra bases.
The third baseman flashed his glove and snared it.
Place walked back to the bench during the Portland Sea Dogs’ spring-training game Wednesday at the Boston Red Sox’s player development complex.
One second, success looks inevitable. The next, you’re out.
Place, who had an abbreviated stay with the Portland Sea Dogs last season, is trying to be on the Sea Dogs’ roster when the team arrives in Maine next week.
But no guarantees, even for Place, 22, who once commanded a $1.3 million signing bonus as a first-round draft pick of the Red Sox in 2006.
The cuts are coming soon at the complex as the Red Sox minor league rosters are taking shape.
Players who once looked on their way up may be shown the door. It’s a tough business but with new players arriving to camp every year, there isn’t enough room for everyone.
Some cuts already have taken place this month. Pitchers like Bryce Cox and Lenny Denardo are gone, as is third baseman Jorge Jimenez. Mark Wagner, once the top catching prospect in the Red Sox system, was designated for assignment Tuesday night, meaning he might not be back with the organization.
Cox, a third-round draft pick out of Rice in 2006, dominated Class A that summer (0.74 ERA) and began his first full pro season in Portland the next year. There was talk he could reach the majors that season.
But injuries and inconsistency followed, ending with a 4.89 ERA last season in Portland.
Denardo, 31, was taken by the Red Sox in the 2003 Rule V draft from the Mets. He appeared in 22 games with Boston in 2004 and earned a World Series ring.
But he has bounced between the majors and minors since, with Boston, Oakland and Kansas City.
He tried to hook on with Boston again this spring, unsuccessfully.
Jimenez, 26, batted .289 in Portland in 2009. The Florida Marlins took him in the Rule V draft after the season but his chance for the majors never materialized.
The Marlins sent him back to the Red Sox, where he went to Triple-A and batted .217 last season.
Other players know they are on the bubble. First baseman Aaron Bates is fighting for a job. Bates, 27, started the 2009 season in Portland, moved to Pawtucket and later was called up to Boston for his major league debut, filling in for five games.
Bates has been in Pawtucket since, not reaching the majors last year.
And he’s watched Lars Anderson move up to take the starting first baseman’s job while the major league club signed free agent Adrian Gonzalez.
“I need to come in and do well,” Bates said. “It’s tough with the Red Sox because they have so much talent. It’s such a good team up there. All around, the organization is top-notch.
“You can’t worry about what’s around you. You just have to go out and play the game.”
Bates, who said he’s having his best-ever spring, hit two home runs in Pawtucket’s exhibition game Wednesday.
Place went 1 for 3 in Portland’s game. He’s competing for an outfield job with incumbents Che-Hsuan Lin and Chih-Hsien Chiang, as well as two players from last year’s Class A Salem team, Alex Hassan and Mitch Dening.
In 2006, the Red Sox had two first-round picks, back to back. They chose Place out of Wren High in South Carolina, then pitcher Daniel Bard from the University of North Carolina.
Place batted .292 that summer in the Gulf Coast League but hasn’t matched those numbers since. His career average is .234.
Place began last season in Portland and was batting .127 in 25 games.
He received permission to leave the team and go home, saying he needed to tend to personal business.
“I had some stuff going on at home,” Place said. “I had tried to use baseball as an escape but it didn’t work out. I obviously was stinking it up while I was there.
“I finally wound up asking for some time to figure it out.”
Place returned to the Red Sox over the summer and eventually was sent to Class A Salem. But he played only four games before badly bruising his left hand when he was hit by a pitch, ending his season.
“Now I’m back,” Place said. “I’m happy and focused. We’ll see what happens.”
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]