PORTLAND – If last night’s forecast rings true, it will probably take all the plows and shovels in Portland to get Hadlock Field ready for tonight’s scheduled season opener. But the Portland Sea Dogs are on a roll when it comes to making things go their way.

The Sea Dogs will receive their 2006 Eastern League championship rings and unveil their championship banner at Hadlock Field prior to the first pitch of the 2007 season-opener against the Connecticut Defenders tonight, which is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Portland brings back 16 players who saw time on last year’s squad, and 19 with Double-A experience overall, but doesn’t have the balance of experience it had last year.

The Sea Dogs also have a new manager, Arnie Beyeler, who spent last year as the hitting coach for the San Diego Padres’ Double-A affiliate.

“We’re an inexperienced team for this level, position-player wise. Pitching-wise, we’ve got some experience with the young guys thrown in, so we’ll see,” Beyeler said. “Hopefully, we’ll pitch and catch the ball. That’s kind of what we’ve been doing in spring training, and it’s been pretty successful.”

The roster includes three of Baseball America’s top 10 prospects in the Boston Red Sox organization – outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and pitchers Clay Bucholz and Bryce Cox. Ellsbury, Boston’s No. 2 prospect (ranked behind Daisuke Matsuzaka), is the only one in the trio who saw time with the Sea Dogs last year, having played 50 games after being promoted from Class A Wilmington.

“I feel very comfortable in Portland,” Ellsbury said. “I didn’t start (last) year off in the poor climate, but it’s something I’m used to having played in Oregon.”

Baseball America touts Ellsbury as the “Best Hitter for Average,” “Fastest Baserunner,” “Best Athlete,” and “Best Defensive Outfielder” in the Red Sox organization.

Ellsbury and Brian Pritz are the only outfielders who patrolled the Hadlock Field grass last season. Infielders David Bacani and Zach Borowiak and catchers Dusty Brown and Mike Leonard are also returning.

“Those guys should feed off their experience, and they should be able to help the young guys a little bit, give them a little taste of what the league’s going to be like,” Beyeler said.

The pitching staff boasts considerably more experience. Charlie Zink, Barry Hertzler, Scott Shoemaker and Chris Smith all logged time at Triple-A Pawtucket last season, and could be on the fast track there again once the big league club’s pitching situation is settled.

But it will be Bucholz, a 22-year-old righthander who went a combined 11-4 last year at Class A stops in Greenville and Wilmington who will draw the assignment for Opening Day. Ranked the No. 3 prospect in the organization by Baseball America, Bucholz led all Red Sox minor leaguers with 140 strikeouts in 119 innings.

Cox, the eighth-ranked prospect in the organization, was a third-round selection last year by the Red Sox and boasts one of the top arms out of the bullpen. The 22-year-old has the “Best Slider” in the organization and posted a 2-1 record with a 0.90 ERA between Lowell and Wilmington.

Ellsbury trumpeted Bucholz, Cox and the other reinforcements from Single-A and noted that the fans shouldn’t expect a drop-off in talent from last year’s title-winning club.

“A lot of these guys were in Wilmington last year when I was there and we won the first half of the season, so we have a lot of good talent coming to Portland,” Ellsbury said.

“It will be interesting for us all to kind of sit back and see how things go, but they’ve been pushed in the past, and they’ve always reached up and grabbed the bar, and we expect them to do the same thing here,” Beyeler said.


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