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‘The sky’s the limit.’ Red Sox prospect Roman Anthony’s ascension reaches Portland

Roman Anthony started the year in Salem, and will end it in Portland.Salem Red Sox

Roman Anthony’s season-ending promotion to Double A Portland punctuates an astonishing prospect year that would have been nearly impossible to forecast. At 19, Anthony is the first Red Sox teenager to reach Double A since Xander Bogaerts in 2012.

And yet, at least one person nodded knowingly when Anthony received the promotion following a standout performance (.294/.412/.569 with 12 homers and 29 extra-base hits in 54 games) in High A Greenville that vaulted him to national prominence.

“Nothing surprises me about Roman,” said Willie Romay, the South Florida area scout who led the Sox’ evaluation process with Anthony leading to his selection in the second round of the 2022 draft.

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Romay had always noted Anthony’s ability in high school to hold his own against older competition. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas (Parkland, Fla.) High School student was young for his grade, turning 18 only at the end of his senior year. Yet Anthony was not only young, but inquisitive and a quick learner.

Near the start of his senior season, Anthony approached Romay with a question.

“‘What do you like and what don’t you like about my swing?’” Romay recalled Anthony asking.

Romay was impressed by the boldness. The scout told Anthony he loved many aspects of the outfielder’s swing, but wanted to see him drive the ball to all fields rather than simply demonstrating pull power.

One month later, when Romay returned to watch Anthony, he was greeted enthusiastically, invited to watch a batting practice session by the cage.

“He was driving the ball the other way. He’d been working at it. He actually started implementing it as a part of his routine,” said Romay, who deemed the 6-foot-2-inch, 200-pound outfielder a potential five-tool player. “He’s smart. He’s very dedicated. He’s an extremely hard worker. When you put that with a kid that is very, very talented, the sky’s the limit.”

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Yet Anthony hardly looked ready to approach the clouds in Single A Salem to start the year. Though he showed keen plate discipline, a surprisingly mature offensive approach, and hit the ball unusually hard for his age and level, his numbers in the Carolina League weren’t eye-popping. He hit .228/.376/.317 with just one homer in 42 games.

Still, the Sox promoted him, believing that his performance was far better than his low average and slugging numbers suggested. Anthony rewarded that faith in Greenville (an environment more favorable for hitters than Salem), hitting .365/.506/.873 with eight homers in his first 18 games for the Drive.

“It seemed like every time I looked up, he was having two, three, four hits a night,” said farm director Brian Abraham. “It was pretty amazing to see that stretch.”

Greenville manager Iggy Suarez could contextualize Anthony’s performance. As a Sox minor leaguer in 2004, Suarez had been on a High A Sarasota team that featured a number of soon-to-be stars, including Jon Lester (20 years old), Hanley Ramirez (20), Brandon Moss (20), and at the end of the year, 20-year-old Dustin Pedroia.

Anthony was younger in High A than any of those eventual longtime big leaguers had been. Suarez believed Anthony’s talent — particularly the lefthanded hitter’s ability to clear Greenville’s Monster in left field — compared with his former teammates.

“He’s taking balls [out of the park] to center field, left-center like it’s nothing. I’m like, ‘Is it that easy?’” said Suarez. “That’s the type of player he is.”

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Even so, Anthony did not sustain his scorching start. After his remarkable first 18 games, he hit a more terrestrial .262/.366/.433 while his strikeout rate spiked to 35 percent in his next 36 contests.

Yet those numbers still qualified as remarkable for a teenager — particularly given that Anthony continued to develop in a way that the Sox believe will prime him for more success in the upper levels.

“He’s challenged himself to get better,” said Abraham. “His bat speed has increased throughout the season. His below-the-surface level numbers have improved throughout the year. His ability to control the zone, his ability to walk, his ability to impact the baseball and hit it pull-side in the air, all those things have improved.”

As for the strikeouts?

“A blip on the radar for a guy who’s able to make adjustments, a guy who is able to hit the ball hard pretty consistently,” said Abraham.

And so, the Sox took the unusual step of moving Anthony to Double A as a 19-year-old — making him the first Red Sox draftee to reach the upper levels as a teenager since Dernell Stenson in 1998. Mindful that Anthony will likely open 2024 in Double A, the team felt he was ready for another challenge and would benefit from an introduction to the coaches and players with whom he’ll likely spend a good chunk of next season while helping Portland try to fight for an Eastern League playoff berth this year.

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It’s a heady assignment for a young player, but one that Anthony seems equipped to handle.

“He flashes you every single tool. You just knew that it’s only a matter of time if he continues to work at it,” said Romay. “A lot of kids are good, but the ones that you can talk to, who get information and really put it to use are the ones that are successful. He has the will to be good — he has talent, but he knows he’s got to work harder [to develop it]. And it’s an endless work for him.”

Three up

Catcher Kyle Teel joined Anthony in moving up from Greenville to Portland. He became the first Red Sox first-rounder since 2005 to get to Double A in the year he was drafted.

Righthander Bryan Mata (teres major strain) is throwing live batting practice sessions in Fort Myers. The team plans to have him join Triple A Worcester soon to continue his buildup, with the expectation he’ll pitch in games — out of the bullpen or as an opener — before the end of the season.

Righthander Wikelman Gonzalez has been dominant in his last two starts with Portland, allowing one run on three hits with 11 strikeouts and three walks in 11 innings. His 36 percent strikeout rate is the highest in the minors among pitchers with 100 innings.

Three down

Lefthander Shane Drohan, after permitting 15 runs in 9⅔ innings over three starts for Worcester while showing diminished stuff and faltering mechanics, was placed on the development list in order to get a breather while missing at least a couple of starts. It’s yet to be determined if he’ll pitch again this year.

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Catcher Nathan Hickey is in a 3-for-31 slump with Portland, likely reflecting the physical demands of a year behind the plate. The 23-year-old, who has an .858 OPS, has started taking grounders at first and third.

Righthander Chih-Jung Liu has an 8.69 ERA with eight homers allowed in his last eight starts at Portland, with evaluators increasingly convinced that his future is in the bullpen.


Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him @alexspeier.