Hope Returns After Dent's Resurgence

BOSTON—In their own right, Ryan Dent's 2009 statistics did not jump off the page. Yet the 20-year-old's seemingly modest totals at two levels of A ball represented not only a significant step forward, but also a reminder of some of the tools that led the Sox to make him a sandwich pick in the 2007 draft.

Dent made a formidable impression in his professional unveiling in 2007. He displayed a mix of power, patience and speed that led to an almost immediate promotion from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League to short-season Lowell.

Yet for more than a year after that, Dent's tools were dwarfed by an absence of production. In a bit more than a year in Lowell in 2007 and 2008, the middle infielder struggled to a .159/.255/.280/ average while striking out in 41 percent of his at-bats.

Against that backdrop, Dent's 2009 season offered significant progress. He hit .252/.350/.391/ in 345 at-bats with low Class A Greenville, then hit .268/.279/.366 in 41 at-bats after a late-season promotion to high Class A Salem.

"Over the course of (2009), I developed the swing I wanted and the type of approach I wanted, which was to stay out of the air, hit line drives and groundballs," Dent said. "About halfway through the year, it kind of clicked. I said, 'This is the player I'm supposed to be.' "

Offensively, despite high strikeout totals, Dent demonstrates a solid understanding of the strike zone that translates to walks and deep counts. At 6 feet, 190 pounds, Dent uses quick-twitch muscles and strong wrists to create the potential for surprising power, and he combines speed with good baserunning instincts.

His defensive progress has exceeded the team's expectations. Though perhaps more natural at second, the organization's 2009 defensive player of the year has played well on both sides of the bag. If he does not emerge as an everyday middle infielder, his athleticism could allow him to play center as a versatile utility player. For now, however, the Sox want to keep him in the middle infield to see how he builds upon his progress of last year.

"This guy is some kind of athlete. He can run, he can play defense at multiple positions, he's got power, he's going to hit," Sox farm director Mike Hazen said. "This guy is a very good player. He still obviously has some room to grow here, especially on the offensive side of the game, but he's got the tools."

Sox Yarns

• Hazen said that catcher Luis Exposito, who received a non-roster invitation to big league spring training, "might have the best righthanded raw power in the system."

• Outfielder Zach Daeges, who missed almost all of 2009 with an ankle injury that required surgery, was back at full health for the start of spring training.