April 4, 2011

On Baseball: One plays, another is left out in the cold

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Today is the last day of spring training for players who are driving to their destinations. Those taking flights will hang around a bit longer.

click image to enlarge

Mitch Dening, a reserve outfielder for the Sea Dogs this season, never has seen snow. Never has played in cold. Welcome to Portland.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Alex Hassan was drafted as a pitcher by the Red Sox but once he turned pro, became a full-time outfielder. He ll be a regular for the Sea Dogs.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

When Portland's two new outfielders arrive at Hadlock Field, they will have entirely different perspectives.

Alex Hassan, who turned 23 on Friday, will feel the cold wind and shrug.

"I've played in it before," said Hassan, a native of Milton, Mass.

Then there's Mitch Dening, 22.

"I've never seen snow," Dening said. "In Greenville a few years ago it was probably 40. That's the coldest by far I've ever played in.

"Australia is like 60 to 90 (degrees). That's what I live in."

Hassan and Dening are two improbable outfielders in the Red Sox system. Hassan was drafted as a pitcher out of Duke, but the Red Sox changed their mind by the time they signed him, putting a bat in his hand.

And Dening was signed as a 17-year-old out of Toowoon Bay, Australia, not exactly a hotbed of baseball prospects.

"I've been playing since I was 6 years old. Played T-ball like every other American over here," Dening said. "Ten years later I had a really good tournament in Australia. Jon Deeble was the Australian scout (for the Red Sox).

"He asked, 'Do you want to play for the Boston Red Sox? We're offering a contract right now.'

"I'm like 'For sure I want to play baseball for the Boston Red Sox."

Dening keeps climbing up the depth chart.

"It's my fifth season. I've moved up one level every year so I guess they're happy with the way I'm playing," he said.

They are. "Mitch shows a lot of arm strength, with accuracy. He's versatile, can play all three outfield positions; a quality defender," said Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles, who was with Dening in Class A Salem last year.

Dening has a .283 career average, including .274 in Salem. He will be the fourth outfielder at Hadlock, waiting for his chances.

"I know my role coming up, with (Che-Hsuan) Lin, (Chih-Hsien) Chiang and Hassan playing," Dening said. "When I get my opportunities I'll play hard, and hopefully one day I can get in that lineup and play every day."

Hassan is somewhat of a surprise. A pitcher and outfielder at both Boston College High and Duke, he was chosen in the 20th round of the 2009 draft.

"My friends and family were pretty excited," Hassan said. They pictured Hassan being the hometown boy, standing on the Fenway Park mound someday.

But Hassan played in the Cape Cod League that summer, hitting when he wasn't pitching. He batted .289 with five doubles, two triples, a home run and 20 RBI.

When the Red Sox finally signed Hassan, they told him he was now an outfielder.

Hassan looked like he had been drafted as a hitter all along, batting .333 in Lowell, and then went 10 for 32 (.313) for low Class A Greenville.

The Red Sox pushed him last year, sending him to Salem.

He started slow, batting .140 in April, but recovered to finish with a .287 average, with 28 doubles, eight home runs and 48 RBI. He also walked 57 times and recorded a .397 on-base percentage.

"A very good year," said Mike Hazen, the Red Sox director of player development who promoted Hassan to a starting outfield spot in Portland.

Boles was impressed. "Alex Hassan is a guy who can drive the ball. He definitely shows potential with the bat."

And when Hassan arrives in Portland, he will bring his bats, as well as the warm clothes he knows he needs for April in New England.

Dening, however, may need to go shopping.

"I packed one pair of jeans. Two jackets. I don't think I'm prepared for it," he said.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:



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