Top Red Sox pitching prospect Anthony Ranaudo recently said he hoped to begin the 2012 season in Portland.

Well, doesn’t every minor leaguer hope for a promotion?

But in Ranaudo’s case, he received some big-time backing last week. At the Red Sox Town Hall Meeting, aired on NESN, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said that, indeed, Ranaudo would likely start in Double-A.

That may be the best news since the Sea Dogs could showcase pitchers like Clay Buchholz (2007), Justin Masterson (2007-08) and Junichi Tazawa (2009), on their way to Fenway Park.

(Another right-hander, Casey Kelly, arrived as a bonus-baby first-rounder in 2010, although it was his first full season as a pitcher and he went 3-5, 5.31).

Ranaudo, 22, could be must-see entertainment at Hadlock Field this year.

Once considered the top pitcher coming out of the 2010 draft, Ranaudo slipped down to the supplemental-round (39th overall) because of elbow problems during his junior year at Louisiana State.

After Boston drafted Ranaudo, agent Scott Boras had his client pitch in the Cape Cod League to prove he was healthy again. After 30 innings and a 0.00 ERA, Boston signed him for a $2.55-million signing bonus.

Ranaudo did not pitch a minor league game until 2011 and began in low Class A Greenville (4-1, 3.33), before being promoted to advanced Class A Salem (5-5, 4.33).

He finished strong in Salem (3-0, 2.35 ERA in his last five starts), which may have prompted the thinking that he is ready for Double-A.

At 6-foot-7, 235 pounds, Ranaudo will be quite a presence at Hadlock. His 95 mph fastball, along with his curve and change-up, may have Sea Dogs fans thinking they are watching the next arm to be destined for Fenway.

* Another new starter expected in Portland this year is lefty Chris Hernandez, another draft pick in 2010 (seventh round). Hernandez, 23, hails from the University of Miami, and spent his first full season in Salem, going 10-7 with a 3.18 ERA.

Hernandez threw 127 innings last year and seemed to tire at the end. He had a 2.52 ERA before his last two starts, when he allowed 11 earned runs.

* Baseball America did not rank Hernandez in its recent Prospect Handbook, which ranks the top 30 prospects of each organization.

Ranaudo is ranked No. 4 (behind third baseball Will Middlebrooks, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and catcher Blake Swihart).

Middlebrooks, the Sea Dogs All-Star last year, figures to spend most or all of 2012 in Triple-A. Bogaerts, 19, hit 16 home runs in 72 games with Greenville and has shot up various prospect rankings. Swihart’s ranking is based purely on potential. He was drafted in the first round out of high school last year and played only two games in the Gulf Coast League.

* At least five former Sea Dogs are in the Baseball America rankings, although they are now with other teams.

Pitcher Kyle Weiland was ranked the 22nd-best Red Sox prospect. But, of course, he has since been traded to Houston in the Mark Melancon deal.

San Diego has two former Sea Dogs in their rankings, including No. 1 Anthony Rizzo, although the first baseman has since been traded to the Cubs. Casey Kelly is No. 3.

Catcher Tim Federowicz and outfielder Chih-Hsien Chiang both stood out for Portland last year, before being traded in the three-team deal that brought Erik Bedard to Boston. Federowicz is the Dodger’s No. 10 prospect, while Chiang is No. 24 for Seattle.


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