PAWTUCKET, R.I. (AP) – In some organizations, highly-rated prospects like first baseman Lars Anderson, outfielder Josh Reddick, pitcher Nick Hagadone and infielder Oscar Tejada might open at Triple A.

Because the Pawtucket Red Sox have so much depth and talent, players of this caliber will be assigned to Double-A Portland this year.

That could make for another winning season for the PawSox, who open the International League campaign Thursday at Buffalo.

“I have a lot of faith in the kids we have coming up as well as the veterans,” said manager Ron Johnson, who last season guided Pawtucket to a franchise-record 85 victories. “Our organization has done a phenomenal job of acquiring talented people.

“I really like the young guys coming up.”

The “young guys” Johnson referred to include starting pitchers Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden and Kris Johnson; relievers Daniel Bard and Hunter Jones; and outfielder Zach Daeges.

They could comprise the next generation of Boston Red Sox.

“Clay’s ceiling is so high,” Johnson said. “Any time you go to the big leagues and throw a no-hitter in a spot start (which Buchholz did in 2007), you’re going to be compared with the greats. But it’s not like he’s a guy throwing 82 and tricking people.

“We’re talking about a guy with four-plus pitches.”

The 22-year-old Bowden last season jumped three levels to Boston. He was 9-4 with a 2.33 ERA with Portland. He appeared in eight games for Pawtucket, finishing 0-3 with a 3.38 ERA along with 29 strikeouts and five walks in 40 innings.

“Michael has the opportunity to have all this plus stuff but he’s so young,” Johnson said. “He shot up pretty quick last year.

“He’s going to have ups and downs but we owe it to him to give him a chance to develop.”

Kris Johnson, the sole lefty in Pawtucket’s starting rotation, last season led the Eastern League with the lowest home run rate (0.3 per nine innings).

Charlie Zink, the 2008 International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher, and ex-Padre Enrique Gonzalez comprise the rest of Pawtucket’s rotation.

Bard and Jones give Pawtucket an intriguing back end of the bullpen.

After his promotion from Portland, Jones had a breakthrough season with Pawtucket, finoshing 7-2 with eight saves, a 3.02 era and 50 strikeouts.

Bard went 4-1 in Pawtucket, with seven saves, a 1.99 ERA and 64 strikeouts.

He topped out at 100 during spring training this year.

“Personally, I saw him hit, 97, 98, 99,” Johnson said. “This kid throws hard. You would assume multiple innings are in his future.”

Dusty Brown will be the every-day catcher, while last season’s league MVP, Jeff Bailey, returns to play first base and the outfield.

Gil Velazquez, Angel Chavez and Ivan Ochoa figure to see time at several infield positions.

Daeges, who hit .307 last year with Portland, will be a corner outfielder.

“He’s definitely a prospect,” Ron Johnson said. “He really drives the ball.”

Veteran Brad Wilkerson, one of Boston’s last cuts, plus Chip Ambres, who has played parts of the last two seasons in the majors, also are ticketed for the outfield.

“You look at the young guys we have and this team is super-stacked,” Bailey said. “But you don’t want to talk about it too much so you don’t jinx anything.

“In terms of on paper, this team looks very nice.”

AP-ES-04-07-09 1731EDT

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