2010 Sea Dogs could be a special group

The 2010 Portland Sea Dogs -- Boston’s Double-A affiliate -- are one of the most prospect-laden teams in the entire minor leagues this season. In fact, Baseball America named this year’s Portland squad the second-best lineup in the minors heading into the 2010 campaign.

This is precisely the talent that Theo Epstein was talking about when he made the off-hand remark over the winter that the 2010 season might be a “bridge year” before the next influx of prospects. But when measuring how good this team really is, one needs look no further than the team that the Red Sox had in Portland five years ago.

In the spring of 2005, Portland’s roster had 10 of the top 20 Red Sox prospects, including seven of the top 10 prospects. The young team finished 76-66, atop the Northern Division of the Eastern League, before falling to Akron in the league championship series. Even more impressive, however, was that the 2005 Sea Dogs produced a whopping 15 major leaguers:

1.SS Hanley Ramirez -- Perennial MVP candidate at shortstop for the Marlins.

2.2B Dustin Pedroia -- 2007 AL Rookie of the Year, 2008 AL MVP, two-time AL All-Star.

3.SP Jon Lester -- AL Cy Young candidate (despite his struggles to start of the 2010 season).

4.RP Jonathan Papelbon -- Already Boston’s all-time saves leader at the age of 29.

5.SP Anibal Sanchez -- Fifth year with the Marlins; threw a no hitter in May 2004.

6.RP Manny Delcarmen -- Entering sixth season as a fixture in Red Sox bullpen.

7.RP Cla Meredith -- Career 3.55 ERA in 270 games with Boston, San Diego, and Baltimore.

8.OF David Murphy -- Rangers’ utility outfielder with a career .794 OPS.

9.OF Brandon Moss -- Three-year major-leaguer now with Pittsburgh.

10.1B/OF Jeff Bailey -- Provided three-year injury depth for Boston, now with Arizona.

11.SP Kason Gabbard -- 31 career starts with Boston and Texas, has struggled through injuries.

12.RP Craig Hansen -- Setup man’s career is in jeopardy due to rare nerve condition.

13.SP/RP Chris Smith -- 47 career appearances with Boston and Milwaukee.

14.SP David Pauley -- playing in Seattle system after appearing in nine games with Boston.

15.SP Charlie Zink -- Failed to impress in one start for Boston in 2008.

On top of that, the team also had three former major leaguers on its roster in third baseman Jared Sandberg, closer Jim Mann, and setup man Jason Pearson. Looking at that roster, you might be able to put together a lineup that would compete with some major league clubs in a short series right now.

In the years following the 2005 season, the influx of talent found its way up to Boston in the form of Papelbon, Lester, Pedroia and Delcarmen. But the players from that club also helped bring in a major haul in trades, including Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell (who were acquired for Ramirez, Sanchez, and two other minor leaguers in November 2005). That corps of players played a pivotal role in directly transitioning the Red Sox franchise from the 2004 “Idiots” to the 2007 championship club.

Other players later netted in trades using players from the 2005 Portland club included Jason Bay (Bay’s signing with the Mets will also result in two high draft picks this June), Eric Gagne (Gagne’s signing with the Brewers in December 2007 resulted in a supplemental-round draft pick, Bryan Price, who Boston later included in the Victor Martinez trade), Doug Mirabelli and Randor Bierd.

As impressive as the 2005 Portland team was, the 2010 version of the Sea Dogs is not far behind. In fact, there is a solid chance that more than 15 future major leaguers will pass through the home clubhouse at Hadlock Field this season.

Much like the 2005 club, the 2010 Sea Dogs roster presently includes 10 of the top 20 and seven of the top 10 prospects in the Red Sox system:

1.SP Casey Kelly -- A 20-year-old starter with ace potential, Kelly is the consensus top prospect in the system and is currently posting a 0.00 ERA after two starts with the Sea Dogs.

2.OF Ryan Kalish -- Projects as a starting corner outfielder at the major league level, could get a cup of coffee in Boston by the end of 2010.

3.1B Lars Anderson -- Former top prospect returning to form early in 2010, hitting .292 with a .977 OPS, which could result in a mid-season promotion to Pawtucket.

4.SS Jose Iglesias -- Defensive wizard has shown major league potential on offense, fanning speculation that he could be Boston’s starting shortstop in 2012.

5.IF Yamaico Navarro -- Powerful infielder with an above-average glove, has the makings of a versatile bat off the bench at the major league level.

6.C Luis Exposito -- Catcher with 25-home run potential and reliable defensive tools.

7.OF Che-Hsuan Lin -- Rangy center fielder with a cannon arm and plus speed.

8.SP Felix Doubront -- Lefty starter from Venezuela may get a shot with Boston in 2010.

9.SP Stephen Fife -- Another 2008 third-rounder, may end up as a back-end MLB starter.

10.SP Kyle Weiland -- 2008 third-rounder profiles as a solid setup man in the majors.

There are also at least four other prospects in Portland with a shot at having an impact in the majors, including 23-year-old closer Jason Rice, a righthander with a mid-90s fastball; outfielder Jason Place, Boston’s 2006 first-round pick; righty starter Ryne Miller, who was invited to the Red Sox Rookie Development Program in 2009; and right-hander Eammon Portice, who led the system in strikeouts in 2009. Additionally, Bryce Cox, Tommy Hottovy, and the recently- acquired Santo Luis are relievers who could get a cup of coffee in the next few years, as could lefthander Andrew Dobies, who was traded to the White Sox earlier this week.

As if this glut of talent were not enough, a number of highly-regarded prospects from High-A Salem may also find their way to Maine later in the season, increasing the pool of potential major leaguers that could eventually come through Portland in 2010. At this point, the two highest-ranked prospects in Salem are Anthony Rizzo, a plus defender at first base with a solid offensive approach, and Stolmy Pimentel, a 20-year-old starter with an arsenal of three major league caliber pitches. Two catchers who could also get the call to the Eastern League in 2010 are defensive-minded Tim Federowicz and offensive powerhouse Ryan Lavarnway, who is off to a hot start in High-A, hitting .408 with 4 home runs. One other name to watch is righthanded starter Fabian Williamson, who is presently 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA for Salem.

Altogether, chances are good that the 2010 Sea Dogs club could match its 2005 precursor in terms of production of major league talent -- a pretty stunning feat for a franchise that has not had the benefit of early draft picks during that time. So for those fans out there lucky enough to live near an Eastern League club, mark your calendars for when the Sea Dogs will be in town, as you’re in for a show. And while you’re there, grab a program -- if you can imagine how cool it would be to have a minor league lineup card with names like Hanley, Pedroia, Papelbon, and Lester on it, this year’s club might eventually give you an even better souvenir.

Andrews is designer and developer of SoxProspects.com and a special contributor to ESPNBoston.com.