I know it might require six layers of clothing and snorkling equipment, but if you’re a Red Sox fan, I’m urging you to head down to Hadlock Field this week to check out the next generation of carmine-hosed heroes, before it’s too late.

The Portland Sea Dogs are once again stocked with some of the top talent in the Red Sox system. The young pups are worth a look-see before they move south to Pawtucket or Boston. Pitchers Clay Bucholz and Bryce Cox are top 10 prospects. Infielder Jeff Natale was the organization’s minor league offensive player of the year in 2006. It’s unlikely any of them will be looking up old friends in Altoona a year or two from now.

But the pick of the litter is outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, the top-ranked prospect in Boston’s minor leagues and the most dynamic player to put on a Sea Dogs uniform since Hanley Ramirez.

Ellsbury is batting a team-leading .393 (11-for-26) and already has six doubles and three stolen bases in six games. He has outstanding speed and can hit to all fields. He’s been compared to Johnny Damon, with less power but a better arm. Baseball America rates him as the “Best Hitter for Average”, “Fastest Baserunner”, “Best Athlete”, and “Best Defensive Outfielder” in the Red Sox organization.

There was some question whether Ellsbury even belonged in Portland to begin the season, but the Sox have a logjam of prospects in the outfield, with former Sea Dogs David Murphy and Brandon Moss already in Pawtucket, along with Major League veteran Alex Ochoa, who would probably get the call if one of the big club’s outfielders gets hurt.

With that kind of numbers game, you might think you can at least wait until it gets above 50 degrees, like, say, July, to see the kid that will finally put Coco Crisp out of his misery. But it’s not optimal for Ellsbury’s development to be stuck in Double-A if he’s already proven he’s a step above the competition, and the Red Sox brass knows this. If he is still tearing up the Eastern League two months from now, he’ll have nothing left to prove at that level. Remember, he hit .308 in 50 games with Portland in the second half of last season.

At first, it might take an injury in Boston or Pawtucket for Ellsbury to get a promotion. But the Red Sox aren’t going to put the future of their best prospect in the hands of fate for long. They will make room for him wherever they think he needs to be. Hopefully, it’s not the Florida Marlins.


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