Minor league exhibition games began last week in Fort Myers, Fla. The team currently playing in the Double-A games is not close to what the Sea Dogs lineup will be.
Spring training provides a domino effect the last two weeks of March. As players are sent down from the major league camp, usually to Triple-A, they bump players down in the system.
That said, we can still take a guess at Portland’s Opening Day lineup at Hadlock Field on April 4.
Two players will be back after injury-interrupted seasons last year — outfielder Peter Hissey and third baseman Kolbrin Vitek. Hissey could serve well as a No. 1 or 2 hitter in the lineup, while using his speed in center field (now that Jackie Bradley Jr. has put Double-A in the rearview mirror).
Vitek, a first-round draft pick in 2010, played only 26 games (.242) last year because of back issues. He will likely be playing third base and serving as the DH, along with corner infielder Michael Almanzar, who hit .300 in Salem last year.
Almanzar, 22, will be one of at least two everyday players making their Hadlock Field debut. Outfielder Brandon Jacobs is a potential power hitter with speed. After impressive numbers in Greenville in 2011 (.881 OPS), his numbers slipped in Salem last year (.732). (A reminder — OPS is the on-base plus slugging percentage).
Three players will be back after receiving promotions to Portland during the year — catcher Christian Vazquez, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and first-baseman Travis Shaw.
Bogaerts, the No. 1 prospect for the Red Sox, has all the attention on him, although Vazquez has been impressing with his defense in major league camp. Shaw bears watching because the Red Sox are suddenly thin at first base since the Adrian Gonzalez trade.
Second-baseman Heiker Meneses began last year in Portland at the age of 20. He was eventually sent down to Salem, but should return in 2013. Likewise, outfielder Shannon Wilkerson was called up to fill in last year before being sent down.
Derrik Gibson, a second-round pick in 2008, played 100 games at shortstop last year. With Bogaerts coming back, Gibson will likely play a lot more at second, competing with Meneses for playing time.
The starting rotation is in flux, but at least three top prospects appear headed to the Hadlock mound — Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo.
Barnes has assumed the role of top Red Sox pitching prospect. Like Ranaudo last year, he was a prime draft pick and is expected to come to Portland after a solid year in Class A.
Workman stopped by Portland for five starts at the end of last year, recording a 3.97 ERA with 23 strikeouts and five walks in 25 innings.
Ranaudo is looking for a bounce-back season after an injury-plagued year.
RYAN PRESSLY ALSO figured to be returning to the Sea Dogs as a prime piece of the bullpen. But he was taken by the Twins in the major league Rule V draft, and it doesn’t look like he’s coming back.
To stay with the Twins, Pressly has to remain on Minnesota’s major league roster. He is impressing in spring so far. After two hitless innings against the Red Sox Thursday, he has a 0.90 ERA for seven games (10 innings).
NEWS ON OTHER former Sea Dogs includes the disappointment that pitcher Casey Kelly may be headed for Tommy John surgery. Kelly, in the San Diego Padres major league camp, is getting a second opinion on his sore right elbow.
First baseman Lars Anderson, who has been bounced from the Indians to the Diamondbacks to the White Sox to the Blue Jays, was optioned to Toronto’s Triple-A team in Buffalo.
A CONCERT AT Hadlock will take place before the Sea Dogs game on Saturday, May 4. While Fenway Park has drawn the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney, Hadlock is bringing in a Grammy nominee. Brandon Heath, a contemporary Christian singer, will perform at 11:45 a.m. before the 1 p.m. game, as part of Faith and Family Day at the Ballpark. Tickets to the game also get you into the concert.
THIS IS THE LAST baseball column from afar. Starting Wednesday, we will be providing stories from Florida.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: