FORT MYERS, Fla. — He played only 66 games in Portland last year, so there was hope that Garin Cecchini might return to the Sea Dogs. Fans at Hadlock Field love to watch those Red Sox prospects.

But a Cecchini sighting is very unlikely.

Cecchini, 22, not only played well for the Sea Dogs (.296 average, .420 on-base percentage), but he held his own in the prospect-rich Arizona Fall League (.277/.434). And in his first major league spring training camp, Cecchini made an impression.

“Yes he did,” agreed Kevin Boles, Cecchini’s manager last year in Portland. Boles is now the Triple-A Pawtucket manager and spent a lot of time this spring helping out in the major league camp.

“He’s showing more athleticism at third base,” Boles said. “But it’s the bat that really stands out. The strike zone discipline and the high frequency of contact. His knowledge of the strike zone is pretty impressive. More times than not, he’s squaring up the ball.

“Plus, he’s bigger, stronger.”

Cecchini, 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, has been assigned to Boles’ team for the rest of spring and is expected to break camp and head to Pawtucket. There, he is expected to continue to work pitch counts, possibly show a little more power, and demonstrate his improving defense.

Cecchini said he was unsure where he’s playing.

“I don’t know yet. Just trying to work to get to the big leagues,” he said.

The big leagues seem inevitable for Cecchini, whose advanced approach at the plate reminds Red Sox followers of Wade Boggs. And, like Boggs, Cecchini is getting better and better at third base.

“I’ve improved in all areas,” Cecchini said, citing several coaches he’s worked with, including fielding guru Brian Butterfield. “Still have work to do.”

At the plate, Cecchini needs only refinement. Like most young players, his power numbers are expected to rise. He hit two home runs for the Sea Dogs last year. But another Portland third baseman, Kevin Youklilis, hit only six homers in 94 games in 2004, and he averaged 20 home runs over a seven-year stretch in the majors.

Cecchini began spring strong (3-for-7), before enduring an historic outing on March 6 against the Marlins.

Cecchini went 0 for 4 with four strikeouts.

“Never happened before,” Cecchini said of the four K’s. “But I’m human. I know what I did wrong. It was not my usual game, swinging at bad pitches.”

Later, Cecchini re-created those at-bats in his head, with a different result.

“I spent some time in the living room, visualizing balls in the dirt and not swinging at them,” he said. “Then swinging (at good pitches) for line drives.”

Cecchini did not get a hit (0-for-5, one walk) in his remaining three games — although he said his plate appearances were much better — and he did not strike out again.

He returned to minor league camp with a bounce in his step.

“I saw major league pitching. I wasn’t overmatched at all,” Cecchini said. “Guys are good, but you have to think, ‘Man, you’re good yourself,’ so you can compete with them.”

When he is major league-ready and assuming Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks is playing up to Red Sox standards, the question will be: Where to put Cecchini?

If Boston runs into that “problem,” there might be consideration to move one of them to first base (where Mike Napoli is under contract through 2015).

Time will tell what Boston does. What remains certain are the expectations for Cecchini. Those begin with him.

“When you can compete with (major leaguers) and have some success, you can kind of sniff (the majors),” he said, “and that’s really cool.”

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:[email protected]Twitter: ClearTheBases