If you long for a return to those prospect-rich days in Portland – when guys named Betts, Swihart and Shaw roamed Hadlock Field – the good times are getting closer.

One of the best collections of prospects in minor league baseball is gathered about 800 miles south, in Salem, Virginia.

The Salem Red Sox feature Boston’s top three everyday prospects: second baseman Yoan Moncada, center fielder Andrew Benintendi and third baseman Rafael Devers. And shortstop Mauricio Dubon is no slouch.

All but Devers are off to fast starts. If the other three keep hitting, they could be promoted to Portland by June.

Boston Red Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada forces Pittsburgh Pirates' Alen Hanson (59) at second base and relays the throws to first in time to turn a double play on Francisco Cervelli during the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Boston Red Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada forces Pittsburgh Pirates’ Alen Hanson at second base and relays the throws to first in time to turn a double play on Francisco Cervelli during a spring training game in March in Bradenton, Fla. The Associated Press

 Moncada, 20, is the big name, if only because of the $63 million Boston invested in him ($31.5 million for a signing bonus, $31.5 million as a penalty for exceeding baseball’s international bonus limits).

Last year Moncada began slowly and then picked it up in Class A Greenville, batting .310 with a.915 OPS in the second half. He stole 45 bases in 48 attempts.

In advanced Class A Salem, Moncada is batting .333 (12 for 36), with a .972 OPS and 10 stolen bases in 13 tries – including 3 of 3 on Sunday. He’s struck out eight times but also has eight walks.

When does he get to Portland? By comparison, 20-year-old outfielder Manuel Margot arrived in Portland last June 22 after 62 games with Salem. Margot, of course, was traded to San Diego over the winter in the Craig Kimbrel deal.

There’s no need to rush Moncada, who turns 21 on May 27. He’s signed to a minor league deal and doesn’t have to be put on the 40-man roster until after the 2018 season, although it’s likely to happen sooner.

Like Mookie Betts, Moncada is going to have to move from second base, a position occupied in the majors by a guy with a contract through 2021.

 Benintendi, 21, appears to be one of those former collegians who will move quickly through the system – like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Sam Travis, each of whom reached Portland in his first full pro season (Pedroia actually began his first full year in Portland).

Drafted in the first round last year out of the University of Arkansas, Benintendi sizzled at lower levels. He hit a combined .313/.972 with 11 home runs in 54 games with Lowell and Greenville in 2015.

In Salem, Benintendi is batting .326 (14 for 43) with a 1.047 OPS. He doesn’t have a home run yet but has stroked four doubles and five triples. He has struck out only three times to go with three walks.

Portland beckons, just as it did for Travis last year, when he arrived after 66 games in Salem.

Benintendi is a center fielder but we assume that he can make the adjustment to left (with Bradley in center and Betts in right).

 Devers, the third-youngest player in the Carolina League, at 19 years and four months, is struggling with a .143 average, although three of his five hits are doubles. His career numbers (.293/.812 OPS) suggest he will come around. If he does, a late-season promotion to Portland is a possibility.

If you remember back to 2004, another promising 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic was not promoted to Portland until August. Hanley Ramirez was in the majors by the end of the next season.

 Dubon, 21, has been a nice surprise for a 26th-round draft pick in 2013, with career numbers of .298/.725. Promoted to Salem halfway through last season, he is off to a fine start in 2016: .351 (13 for 37) and an .837 OPS.

Dubon also has played third base and second base in previous seasons, suggesting the makings of a utility player. Unless he slumps badly, a ticket to Portland by June is likely.

HENRY OWENS made his third start for Pawtucket on Monday night, allowing one run in six innings. Owens, 1-1 with a 1.75 ERA, has 23 strikeouts in 18 innings, but also continues to have problems with command with 10 walks and two hit batters.

ANDERSON ESPINOZA, the top Red Sox pitching prospect, made his third start for Greenville on Monday night. Espinoza, who turned 18 last month, is the youngest player in the South Atlantic League. Consistent with a 97 mph fastball and developed curveball, Espinoza is 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA, with 16 strikeouts and two walks in 15 innings.

 


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