PORTLAND – As the Portland Sea Dogs begin their 18th season tonight, and their ninth as a Boston Red Sox affiliate, the annual question is asked:
Who could make it to Fenway Park this year?
Four players made the jump from Hadlock Field to Boston last year, and a few could be knocking on Manager Terry Francona’s office door this season, starting with the guy on the mound tonight.
Right-hander Alex Wilson 24, gets the season-opening start. He will show off a 93 mph fastball, a new-look two-seam fastball, an improving change-up and a slider that Baseball America tabbed the best in the Red Sox minor league system.
Wilson, a second-round draft pick out of Texas A&M in 2009, was 4-5 with a 6.66 ERA for the Sea Dogs after being promoted from advanced Class A Salem last year.
“I started off with a flurry of good outings in high-A and got bumped up here,” Wilson said. “The biggest thing for me last year was developing a change-up. I really pushed it when I was here.
“I had some really good games and then I had some really bad games. It was a bit of a roller coaster. But in the long run it paid off. My change-up this year has been really good.”
And after getting advice from spring training roommate and former Sea Dogs starter Kyle Weiland (now in Pawtucket), Wilson changed the grip on his two-seam fastball, creating more movement.
“It has opened up another door for me,” said Wilson, who has heard the speculation that his stuff might play well in the Red Sox bullpen.
“It was mentioned when I was drafted but I haven’t heard anything about it since,” Wilson said. “What I tell everyone is I’m a starter until otherwise told.”
TONIGHT’S LINEUP will look something like this: Che-Hsuan Lin, CF; Alex Hassan, LF; Jorge Padron, 1B; Ryan Lavarnway, C; Chih-Hsien Chiang, RF; Oscar Tejeda, 2B; Will Middlebrooks, 3B; Tim Federowicz, DH; and Ryan Dent, SS.
It’s likely that Lavarnway and Federowicz will often alternate the catcher and designated hitter spots. Both are prospects and the Red Sox want them to get their at-bats.
THE SEA DOGS’ ROSTER is nearly 100 percent homegrown. Only reliever Santo Luis wasn’t originally drafted or signed by the Red Sox. Luis was picked up on waivers from the White Sox last year.
As has been the case in recent years, this Sea Dogs team is young.
“That’s where the patience comes in,” first-year manager Kevin Boles said. “But obviously you don’t want to be too patient because you expect the guys to perform and you expect them to play quality baseball. It’s an interesting lineup because we do have some guys with tools.”
THE OLD AND the new could be seen on opposite ends of the clubhouse Wednesday. Tommy Hottovy strolled in with his usual big smile, greeting friends. Hottovy, 29, is putting on a Sea Dogs uniform for a record sixth season.
Across the way, outfielder Mitch Dening of Australia talked of being in Maine and seeing snow for the first time.
“I was outside with my computer, showing (the snow) to my family and friends back home,” Dening said. “It was amazing.”
THE READING PHILLIES will start 6-foot-5 right-hander Josh Zeid, a 10th-round draft pick out of Tulane in 2009. He was 8-4 with a 2.93 ERA in low Class A last year, and has jumped two levels to Reading this season.
Other Reading prospects include shortstop Freddy Galvis, infielder Harold Garcia and first baseman Matt Rizzotti.
The Phillies’ new manager is former major league catcher Mark Parent.
AMONG TODAY’S FESTIVITIES will be music from the Bellamy Jazz Band outside the gate.
The gates open at 4 p.m. A wedding will take place at home plate at 5:35 p.m., with Lori Voornas of WJBQ 97.9 FM officiating. After team introductions, the national anthem will be performed by the Edward Little High band.
The Sea Dogs have installed new speakers at Hadlock that they say has eliminated the static and feedback.
Plus, fans of the lobster toss game can rejoice. The game, featuring two fans trying to catch lobbed (rubber) lobsters with a trap, has returned after a two-year hiatus.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: