Pro baseball: Sea Dogs ready to spring into action

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PORTLAND — Teddy is ready.

Teddy Stankiewicz will be the Portland Sea Dogs’ opening-day starter Thursday — weather pending, of course — and he’s amped up to take the mound at 6 p.m. at Hadlock Field against the Reading Fightin Phils.

“It’s going to be absolutely amazing. We’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” Stankiewicz said at Sea Dogs media day Tuesday. “Spring training, toward the end, you’re kind of like, ‘All right, let’s go this already; we’re ready.’

“Then you get out here, you just got to have that same mentality, that you’re going to destroy people, get them out. You get that momentum and that boost of adrenaline, which is awesome.”

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Stankiewicz won’t be the first one throwing a pitch Thursday. Former Boston Red Sox star Kevin Youkilis, who played for the Sea Dogs in 2003, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Thursday’s opener pits the 2016 Eastern League champion, Reading (89-52), against last year’s last-place team, Portland (55-84). More than 30 games separated the two teams in 2016, but the Sea Dogs aim to flip their fortunes in 2017.

“I think (we have) high expectations,” returning infielder Ryan Court said. “I know last season wasn’t exactly how we wanted it to go, but this year we’ll build off of that.”

Carlos Febles is back for his second year as manager of the Sea Dogs, the Boston Red Sox’s Double-A affiliate.

Portland had 27 players on its roster as of Tuesday, meaning two more roster moves must be made by Thursday’s opener. Included among those 27 players are six of the top 30 prospects in the Red Sox organization, according to Baseball America: infielders Rafael Devers (No. 8) and Nick Longhi (14), left-handed pitchers Trey Ball (15) and Luis Ysla (22), and righties Jake Cosart (16) and Jamie Callahan (28).

Of the 27 players on the current roster, 14 spent time playing for the Sea Dogs in 2016. That includes team MVP and leading hitter Aneury Tavarez.

Tavarez, an outfielder, spent all of spring training with the Baltimore Orioles, but was returned to the Red Sox and then to Portland on Sunday under Rule 5 Draft stipulations.

Tavarez set a franchise record with 13 triples and led the 2016 Sea Dogs in batting average (.335), on-base percentage (.379), slugging percentage (.506), hits (129), runs (59), total bases (195) and steals (18).

Also back is utility infielder Ryan Court, last year’s Sea Dogs 10th-player award winner. Court hit .277 with four home runs, 16 doubles and 39 RBIs in 85 games for Portland. Typically a first and third baseman, Court worked on adding versatility in the offseason.

“Me being a utility player, I wanted to get better at shortstop and middle infield,” he said.

Four members of the pitching staff spent all of 2016 with Portland. Two of those, right-handers Stankiewicz and Kevin McAvoy, are starters.

Stankiewicz (5-9, 4.71 ERA) recorded the first nine-inning one-hitter in Sea Dogs history last August, and led the staff in quality starts (14), innings pitched (135.2) and games started (25).

Stankiewicz said his offensive focus was improving his pitching motion and fine-tuning his fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. Febles has noticed the improvements, and said that consistency will be key for Stankiewicz.

“Here’s a guy that has a four-pitch mix,” Febles said. “Here’s a guy that when he’s on, he’s on. He can be pretty tough to hit off, it’s a matter of how consistent he is that day.

“I got the opportunity to watch him pitch a few times this year, and he looked different. He has another year of experience, and I think he’s doing to do well.”

McAvoy starts the season as the No. 5 starter. He went 8-9 last season (5.80 ERA) and his three complete games tied for third-most in the minor leagues.

The other two pitchers with the Sea Dogs for all of 2016 are relievers Ty Buttrey, a righty, and Williams Jerez, a lefty.

Buttrey became a standout reliever after starting last season as a starter. Jerez had a team-high 40 appearances and was picked as a midseason Eastern League All-Star.

Even with all the returning Sea Dogs, Febles notes that this year’s team is younger than last year’s.

“Last year we had guys that were 35 years old,” Febles said. “This is a pretty young team, a talented team. This is a team that has a lot of big-league potential, guys that you’ll see in the big leagues soon.”

Headlining that youth are Devers, Longhi and Bell, all of whom are making the jump to Double-A from High-A Salem.

Along with being the No. 2 prospect in the Red Sox organization, Devers is Baseball America’s No. 18 prospect in all of the minor league. The strong-armed 20-year-old has garnered All-Star honors in each of his three previous professional seasons. At Salem last year, he batted .282 with 11 homers, 71 RBIs, 32 doubles and eight triples.

Longhi, a 30th-round draft pick in 2013, ranked second in the Carolina League in doubles (40), fifth in RBIs (77) and 10th in batting average (.282). The 21-year-old also led the league’s first baseman in fielding with a .999 percentage — committing only one error in 856 chances.

Ball, the Sea Dogs’ No. 3 starter, was the seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft. The tall (6-foot-6) lefty struck out 86 in 117.1 innings for Salem, and ranked sixth in the Carolina League with a 3.84 ERA.

Jalen Beeks, the No. 2 starter, and Jacob Dahlstrand (No. 4) round out the starting rotation.

Febles is high on the bullpen that will back up the starters. Joining Buttrey and Jerez in the ’pen are Cosart, Ysla, Callahan, Austin Maddox, Taylor Grover and Josh Smith, who pitched at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in the Pittsburgh Pirates last year.

“I think our bullpen has to be one of the best in the league, based on the track record,” Febles said.

“As a manager,” he adds, “it’s always nice to have different guys that can close games for you, and that’s our case.”

Febles said that Maddox and Callahan made impressions at the big league camp this spring.

The Sea Dogs will have a versatile, aggressive offense, their speed being bolstered by the additions of outfielders Danny Mars and Joseph Monge.

“I think this is a team that will be able to beat the opposition in lots of different ways,” Febles said. “We have guys that can run, we have guys that are pretty good situational hitters.

“This is a team that gives a manager flexibility to do lots of different things.”

Febles said that overall, the objective for the players will be learning to be good hitters rather than hitting for power. But, he adds that Mike Olt, Portland’s only player with major league experience, has a track record of power hitting.

Olt, who spent last season in the San Diego Padres organization, played in 135 games for the Texas Rangers, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox in 2012, 2014 and 2015. He’s hit 16 MLB home runs, including one at Fenway Park in 2014.

Portland Sea Dogs outfielder Danny Mars winds up to pitch to pitcher Jake Cosart while waiting to be filmed by a team videographer at Hadlock Field in Portland on Tuesday. The Sea Dogs open their season at home against Reading on Thursday at 6 p.m. 

Portland Sea Dogs pitcher Jalen Beeks plays cards with his teammates at Hadlock Field in Portland on Tuesday.

Portland Sea Dogs catcher Jordan Procyshen looks back at his teammates while waiting to be filmed by a team videographer at the Hadlock Field clubhouse in Portland on Tuesday.

Portland Sea Dogs catcher Jake DePew, outfielder Cole Sturgeon and infielder Tzu-Wei Lin watch the Boston Red Sox play the Detroit Tigers during a taped game on television at Hadlock Field in Portland on Tuesday.  

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