FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was early morning and baseball players gathered outside the minor league clubhouse at the new Red Sox complex here on the east side of town. Some stretched. Others headed for the indoor batting cages.

But there was a somber air about the place Friday. Not everyone was dressed in workout clothes and not every eye was dry.

Cuts were made and a handful of players are out of baseball, at least temporarily.

At least two former Sea Dogs were let go — outfielder Mitch Dening and first baseman/outfielder Jorge Padron. Others also were cut, although the Red Sox don’t always officially announce them.

Unlike major league camp, when a minor league player is cut he isn’t reassigned elsewhere. He’s gone.

“No fun,” said Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles, who has had to break the news to players in the past.

When Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine was told that Friday was a day for cuts in the minor league camp, he winced.

“This is a lousy day,” he said.

Dening, 23, from Toowoon Bay, Australia, signed with the Red Sox a month after turning 17. He competed in the U.S. for the first time in 2007, batting .301 in the Gulf Coast League.

Dening moved up a level every season after that, batting .274 in 116 games in advanced Class A Salem in 2010.

Promoted to Double-A Portland last season, Dening was made the backup outfielder. It’s difficult for a player to keep his timing while playing occasionally. He had trouble adjusting and batted .220 in 86 games.

Dening did have six home runs, including a walk-off homer on July 20 before a near-capacity crowd at Hadlock Field.

Coming into spring training, the Red Sox had a glut of outfielders at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, including prospects moving up from Class A like Bryce Brentz, and prospects switching positions like Oscar Tejeda from second base to the outfield.

Dening knew the odds were against him, but that didn’t make Friday any easier when Red Sox officials gave him the news.

“I’m not surprised,” Dening said, his voice breaking. “It’s still a shock when it actually happens.”

With his gear bag slung over his shoulder, Dening hugged several former teammates. He then began the long walk out of the complex.

Teammates Jonathan Hee and Jeremy Hazelbaker accompanied him part of the way, each giving him one last hug.

“You spend every day together for six months at a time, for five years, you get real close to some of these guys,” Hee said. “They’re real good people. It’s always a hard day in camp.”

Hee was a utility infielder last year in Portland, a position that’s not always secure. Iggy Suarez and Ryan Khoury performed the role in Portland before him before they eventually were let go.

But Hee, 26, made the cut. He’s likely headed back to Portland.

Infielder Ryan Dent, 23, batted .206 last year in Portland in an injury-filled season. He played only 53 games. If Dent wasn’t a high draft pick — as well as a sensational fielder — he may have been on the bubble. But he was a sandwich-round pick (62nd overall) in the 2007 draft and still has a few seasons to prove himself.

“At this point in my career, I feel the Red Sox still believe in me,” Dent said. “I had never had any doubt that I would be cut. I don’t think about it too much.

“If I think it’s going to happen, then that’s just going to affect me even more.”

Dent has had trouble with his hamstring muscles in the past but said he’s feeling great. He’s also expected back in Portland but may be moving from shortstop to second base.

Padron, 25, played the outfield and first base for the Sea Dogs over parts of two seasons. He looked solid in 2010, coming to Portland mid-season and batting .286 in 47 games.

But Padron, batting .248 halfway through last season, was demoted back to Class A Salem, where he hit .247.

His performance, his age and the fact the Red Sox have plenty of first basemen and outfielders at the upper levels led to his release.

Friday was a sad day. Today will be happier. Most of the remaining players will learn their destination, including those going to Portland.

Some already know they are heading to Hadlock, including Brentz, who announced it Friday, as well as reliever Will Latimer, who tweeted that he has one more spring-training game before, “the drive to Portland, Maine begins.”


Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases