September 1, 2012

On Baseball: In a season of highs and lows, several Sea Dogs stood out

By Kevin Thomas
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - The Portland Sea Dogs are headed for a fourth straight losing season.

Disappointing? Well, sure. But you have to add an asterisk to the 2012 campaign.

If the Eastern League were like the other two Double-A leagues -- the Texas League and the Southern League -- the Sea Dogs might be headed to the playoffs.

Those other leagues have first-half and second-half standings to determine their playoff teams. And these Sea Dogs have been one of the best teams in the Eastern League in the second half, including 31-17 since the All-Star break.

Improvement is always better than a collapse (see Red Sox, September 2011).

And there is the crux of the Sea Dogs -- developing players for Boston. Several prospects are passing through Hadlock Field these days.

Today will mark the annual Field of Dreams Game, followed by the traditional awards handed out at the final home game Monday.

Here is my take on superlatives and other noteworthy items from the 2012 season:

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Bryce Brentz. He didn't hit 30 home runs like last year in Class A, but Brentz made a solid adjustment to Double-A, leading the Sea Dogs in hitting (.296), doubles (30), RBI (76) and OPS (.833). He was second in home runs with 17.

Brentz, 23, is a true corner outfield prospect and was just promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. But he still has work to do, as his 130 strikeouts indicate.

MOST VALUABLE PITCHER: Jeremy Kehrt. The true underdog as a 47th-round draft pick pitching alongside first-rounders and 40-man roster guys. Kehrt, 26, did everything asked of him -- relieve or start -- and led the team with an 8-3 record.

After three years in Portland, Kehrt's challenge is to make the Pawtucket roster out of spring training next year.

TOP EVERY DAY PROSPECT: Xander Bogaerts. When Sea Dogs fans watched 19-year-old Adrian Gonzalez star in Portland in 2002 and 20-year-old Anthony Rizzo in 2010, they saw strong, effortless swings that screamed "major league material."

You see the same thing in Bogaerts, 19, who was batting .321 (.966 OPS) through 20 games with the Sea Dogs. So gifted, but also with a work ethic that has him searching for improvement instead of praise.

TOP PITCHING PROSPECT: Chris Hernandez. He does not have the fastball of other lefties like Jon Lester and Felix Doubront, but Hernandez commands a variety of pitches and knows how to use them. He led Sea Dogs starters with a 3.13 ERA until his promotion to Pawtucket in late July.

Hernandez, 23, will surely be in major league spring training camp next year, and a phone call away from Fenway.

MOST FRUSTRATED PLAYER: Kolbrin Vitek. The Red Sox first-round draft pick in 2010 arrived as Portland's opening-day third baseman. He played only 46 games because of a troublesome back, and hit .242 with one home run.

Vitek, 23, will be fighting for playing time next year, with third baseman Michael Almanzar arriving from Salem.

MOST FRUSTRATED PITCHER: Anthony Ranaudo. In spring training, we hailed Ranaudo's starts as must-see events. But he made only nine of them, and rarely met expectations (1-3, 6.69 ERA).

Slowed before the season by a strained groin muscle, Ranaudo, 22, joined the Dogs late and then experienced a tired arm. The 2013 season will be a do-over for Ranaudo.

MOST IMPROVED: Drake Britton, 23, and Stolmy Pimentel, 22. Last year, Britton was 1-13 with a 6.91 ERA in Class A, and Pimentel was 0-9 with a 9.12 ERA in Portland before being demoted.

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