The team had the makings of a champion but, slowly, some of its star players were taken away.
The 2013 Salem Red Sox lost third baseman Garin Cecchini, reliever Noe Ramirez, ace starter Henry Owens and shortstop Deven Marrero, all to promotions to Double-A Portland.
Salem then won the Carolina League championship anyway.
“One guy would move up and another guy moved in and (played just as well),” said Sea Dogs first baseman Stefan Welch, a Salem regular last year.
Now move to 2014.
The Portland Sea Dogs initially featured a talent-filled roster.
But 10 players who began this season in Portland are now in Triple-A Pawtucket.
Included in that 10 are five listed among the top 30 Boston prospects as ranked by Baseball America.
“It’s similar to last year,” said Portland pitcher Mike Augliera, a starter for Salem in 2013.
“We’ve lost some key guys and we got some new guys. We all have to step up.”
Like last year, Owens and Marrero have moved up. But so have catcher Blake Swihart and second baseman/outfielder Mookie Betts. Both Swihart and Betts were keys to Salem’s playoff run last year.
But they could not be held back, not with Betts batting .355, and Swihart .300 while playing superb defense.
“Mookie was having one of the best seasons I’ve ever seen, and Swihart was unbelievable,” said veteran Michael Brenly, the only one of Portland’s initial three catchers still here.
Four veterans of the Sea Dogs – first baseman Travis Shaw, utility player Derrik Gibson, reliever Miguel Celestino and catcher Matt Spring – have moved up, along with free agents Jose Valdez and Carlos Rivera.
Plus, the Sea Dogs lost two outfielders to injury, Henry Ramos and Peter Hissey, and a starter suspended for drug use (Mickey Pena).
Six of the Sea Dogs’ top seven batters are gone. Only infielder Sean Coyle (.309) remains and he is on the disabled list.
The Sea Dogs still have Ramirez in the bullpen (2.20 ERA).
The rotation replaced one ace (Owens) with another (Brian Johnson, 9-2, 1.87 ERA) and recently received Keith Couch (7-1, 2.91) back from the disabled list.
Of the current Sea Dogs, only two are included in Baseball American’s top-30 prospect rankings – Johnson (No. 14) and Coyle (No. 30).
So, who are the new guys?
Perhaps the best additions have come in the rotation, led by the acquisition of Eduardo Rodriguez (the Orioles’ No. 3 prospect) in a trade involving Andrew Miller. Rodriguez has allowed one earned run in his first two starts.
Justin Haley, a sixth-round draft pick in 2011, was 7-4 in Salem and has a 0.75 ERA over two starts with Portland. Luis Diaz, 6-3 in Salem, has a 3.76 ERA for the Sea Dogs in nine starts.
Infielder Mike Miller (ninth round, 2012 draft) was batting .307 for Salem before being called up Aug. 2. Carson Blair (35th round, 2008) figures to share the catching duties with Brenly. He was batting .261 with nine home runs for Salem. Outfielder Kevin Heller (40th round, 2012) hit .253 for Salem. First baseman Davis Chester was promoted to Salem last year for its championship run. He’s now in Portland, with five home runs in 47 games.
Outfielder Keury De La Cruz, in Salem last year, began this season on the disabled list, joining the Sea Dogs in June, and is batting .281.
Three players returned to the Sea Dogs in June and July, including third baseman Michael Almanzar, who was chosen by the Orioles in the Rule V draft last December. Almanzar hurt his knee in spring training and, once healthy, the Orioles returned him to Boston July 1. He’s batting 289, with an .841 OPS for the Sea Dogs.
Reliever Pete Ruiz, in Portland last year, began this season on the disabled list. He was back in the Hadlock bullpen by July.
Utility player Ryan Dent played parts of the last three seasons for Portland. He re-signed with the Red Sox as a minor league free agent and spent three months in Salem before rejoining the Sea Dogs last month.
They are among the newcomers, needed to fill the gaps on Portland’s roster.
Are they still contenders?
“At the end of the day, it’s all about trusting the guys you’re with,” Augliera said. “We all feel we have as good team here and a chance to win.”