PORTLAND, Maine — With daytime temperatures barely cracking 50 degrees and their nighttime counterparts still dipping into the 30s, it may not feel like it’s time for baseball just yet.
But it is.
The sun is getting brighter, the grass is thinking about greening up and the Sea Dogs are back in town.
Portland’s Double-A baseball team, affiliated with the Boston Red Sox, is set to kick off its 28th season on Friday at 6 p.m. when they take on the New Hampshire Fisher Cats at Hadlock Field.
The local weather is a far cry from Florida’s sunny warmth, where team members spent recent weeks in spring training. Still, infielder Hudson Potts summed up the clubhouse mood in three short words.
“Spring is good,” Potts said.
Sea Dogs President and General Manager Geoff Iacuessa started at the club as an intern in 2001. Now, starting his 22nd year with the team, he said opening day still gets him excited.
“It never gets old,” Iacuessa said. “If it ever does, it’ll be time to pack it in.”
Sitting in front of their adjacent lockers in the clubhouse, pitchers Brandon Walter and Darin Gillies both said they were looking forward to the season getting underway.
Walter, a lefty, is brand new to the Sea Dogs after splitting his time between the Greenville Drive and Salem Red Sox in 2021. He finished last season with a 5-4 record and a 2.92 ERA. He started 14 games and appeared in relief in 11 more. Walter is the Red Sox’s overall number nine prospect.
“I’ll be trying to adjust to this level of competition,” Walter said. “They say that Double-A is the biggest separator in professional baseball.
Gillies spent last year in the Texas and Pacific Coast Minor Leagues.
“I’m going to focus on winning as many baseball games as possible,” he said. “This is my seventh year in professional baseball and I always have more fun when we win.”
The Sea Dogs’ opening day roster includes five of their parent club’s top 30 prospects and 16 returning players from last season.
Notable players suiting up for Friday’s game include right-handed pitcher Brayan Bello, who is the Red Sox’s top pitching prospect and rated number five overall in the organization. Bello was promoted to Portland in 2021 after going 5-0 with a 2.27 ERA down south with the Greenville Drive. Bello then made 15 starts in Portland, finishing the season with a 2-3 record and 4.66 ERA. He also struck out 87 in his 63.2 innings of work.
Returning left-handed pitcher Chris Murphy was named Double-A Northeast League Pitcher of the week twice in 2021, hurling for the Sea Dogs. The number 11 prospect was promoted to Portland last summer on July 31, then made six starts for the Sea Dogs. Murphy held opposing hitters to a .242 batting average and struck out 47 in 33 innings.
Infielder Christian Koss is brand new to the team after playing for Greenville last year. In 104 games in 2021, Koss hit .271 with 18 doubles, seven triples and 15 home runs while driving in 55 runs. He was acquired in a trade with the Colorado Rockies for Yoan Aybar in 2020.
Infielder David Hamilton is making his Red Sox organization debut this week. Hamilton was acquired by the Red Sox from Milwaukee, along with Portland alumni Jackie Bradley Jr. and Alex Binelas, for Hunter Renfroe in 2021. Like Bradley, Hamilton is known for his speed, having the fifth-most stolen bases and third-most triples in all minor league levels last year.
In the outfield, 2021 Sea Dogs Pedro Castellanos and Wil Dalton are returning while Tyler Dearden and Isranel Wilson are making their debuts. Dearden led Greenville in home runs last year with 24. Signed as a free agent in 2022, Wilson spent 2021 with the Rocket City Trash Pandas in California, hitting .247 with eight doubles and 21 home runs.
Manager Chad Epperson is new to the job this year after spending the last 12 seasons as the Red Sox’s catching coordinator. Though it’s been a while, this is not his first time managing in the minors leagues.
Prior to his coaching stint in Boston, Epperson managed Red Sox club affiliates in Augusta, Greenville, Wilmington, Lancaster and Salem.
Epperson said he’s looking forward to helping members of his team develop to their full potential this season.
“We have a very talented group and they’re a lot closer to the big leagues than most of them realize,” he said.