The Portland Sea Dogs may have their best rotation in years and there’s more coming in the pipeline. While the farm system is considered depleted, the Boston Red Sox do have some arms worth watching.

Darwinzon Hernandez and Denyi Reyes – both on Boston’s 40-man roster – and 2017 first-round draft pick Tanner Houck will start at Hadlock Field during the season-opening homestand that begins Thursday night.

But the starter with the most potential may be just months away.

Bryan Mata, 19, is back in advanced Class A Salem, but Portland is a possibility before the year is over. He might already be here if he hadn’t hurt his back last July. The Red Sox liked what they saw this spring training.

“He’s healthy and strong,” said Ben Crockett, the Red Sox director of player development. “He’s shown more consistency with his fastball command while showing the same (velocity).”

The velocity – up to 97 mph – gets your attention, and Mata used it well to jet through the system. He signed with Boston in January 2016, a 16-year-old with a bargain $25,000 bonus. He excelled in the Dominican Summer League that year (61 innings, 61 strikeouts and 19 walks).

He remained in extended spring training in 2017, but by late May of that year, Boston skipped Mata past the Gulf Coast League and the short-season New York-Penn League, sending him to low Class A Greenville. Just 18, Mata was the youngest player in the league. He responded with a solid season – 3.74 ERA, 74 strikeouts and 26 walks in 77 innings.

Boston pushed Mata to advanced Class A Salem last year. His debut went fine – four hits over five scoreless innings, with four strikeouts. The walks and pitch counts started to rise in subsequent appearances, but Mata battled through. He was named to the Major League Futures Game in July.

When Mata returned, he made only one more start, leaving early with back trouble. Boston was cautious with its prospect and shut him down. Overall it was an up-and-down year. The positives included a 3.50 ERA, a .229 opponents’ batting average and 61 strikeouts in 72 innings. On the downside were 58 walks and a 1.61 WHIP.

Mata may be Boston’s best chance to develop a viable homegrown starting pitcher since the days of Jon Lester (2006-14) and Clay Buchholz (2007-16). The keys are harnessing that explosive fastball, developing his secondary pitches and staying off the injured list.

His command this spring was encouraging.

“He was throwing the ball really well when I saw him,” said Sea Dogs Manager Joe Oliver, who was in Salem last year. “It looked like he was back to (the times) last year when he was throwing the ball extremely well. That (back issue) seems to be behind him.

“I would think if he got off to a good start, he’d be somebody they would look at moving (up to Portland).”

ALEX SCHERFF may not see Hadlock Field this year but has the talent to get here soon.

“He’s learning how to use his stuff,” said Bob Kipper, the Greenville (and former Sea Dogs) pitching coach.

Scherff, 21, didn’t pitch in 2017 after the Red Sox drafted him out of high school in the fifth round. That didn’t keep Boston from skipping Scherff – with his mid-90s fastball and advanced change-up – past the rookie leagues, sending him to Greenville in 2018.

He had an April to forget, with an 0-3 record in four starts, a 9.35 ERA, 11 strikeouts and 13 walks.

But Scherff showed he could pick himself up. In his next six starts in May and June, he posted a 2.60 ERA with 24 strikeouts and eight walks.

An oblique strain sidelined him until August. Again, Scherff had to show he could come back from adversity.

“He missed a considerable amount of time,” Kipper said. “He worked hard to put himself in position to compete again.”

He made four more starts (1.50 ERA, 16 strikeouts, two walks).

“Just out of high school, these guys are trying to find themselves. It’s all about development,” Kipper said.

“I saw a lot of growth in that area with Alex Scherff.”

Kipper said Scherff looked good at the end of spring, although inconsistent.

NOTES: Right-handed reliever Zach Schellenger was drafted right after Scherff and already is in Portland. Schellenger, 23, from Seton Hall University, was limited by injuries last year and pitched only 10 1/3 innings in Greenville (1.74 ERA). But he had a good spring and Boston sent him to Double-A. … Two years ago, outfielder Danny Mars led the Sea Dogs in hitting with a .304 average. Sent back to Portland last year, his average dipped to .255. Mars, 25, was cut at the end of this year’s spring training.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-7411 or:

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Twitter: @ClearTheBases