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Rule 5 Draft: Vulnerable Sox prospects

The annual Rule 5 Draft will be held on Thursday morning at the tail end of the winter meetings. For those in need of a quick primer, the Rule 5 Draft allows teams to draft players from other organizations who have been left “unprotected” by those organizations. Major league teams can “protect” certain players who have been in their system for a set amount of time by adding those players to the 40-man roster, or else risk losing those players in the Rule 5 Draft.

The amount of time a player spends in the system before he must be protected varies depending on the player’s age at the time he signed his first professional contract, but it roughly works out that players will be eligible for selection if they are not on the 40-man roster and they: (1) were signed at age 19 or older and have been in the organization for four years; or (2) were signed at age 18 or younger and have been in the organization for five years.

Teams are free to make as many Rule 5 picks as they desire, but the picks aren’t free -- each draft pick costs $50,000 -- and major league rules require that the selecting team must keep the drafted player on its 25-man roster for the entire following season (some exceptions are made for time on the disabled list), or that player must be offered back to his original team at a price of $25,000.

Some notable Red Sox Rule 5 draft picks in recent years have been Miguel Gonzalez (2008), Adam Stern (2004), Lenny DiNardo (2003) and Javier Lopez (2002). While a handful of Red Sox minor leaguers have been drafted from the Boston system in recent years -- such as Jorge Jimenez and Armando Zerpa in 2009 and Jose Capellan in 2007 - not one Red Sox player selected in the major league phase of the Rule 5 Draft has stuck with the team that drafted him since Wil Ledezma, who was selected by Detroit in 2002.

This offseason, there will be 42 players in the Red Sox system eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. The Boston front office is quite adept at protecting the right players each season, so it appears unlikely that many players, if any, will be drafted out of that group -- maybe one or two. That being said, here’s a list of the 10 players most likely to be drafted on Thursday:

1. Jason Rice: 24-year-old righty reliever was actually picked up by Boston from the White Sox in the Triple-A phase of the 2008 Rule 5 Draft. Rice pounds the strike zone with a 92-94 mph fastball, which is complemented by a high-70s curveball. He had a lot of success with High-A Salem in 2009 and with Portland in 2010, but he also managed to slip through without getting drafted after he was left eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in 2009.

2. Daniel Turpen: 24-year-old sidearm reliever acquired for Ramon Ramirez at the 2010 trade deadline. Turpen mixes in a 93-94 mph fastball, an above-average changeup, and an above-average slider. He induces a lot of groundball outs with his three-pitch arsenal. While he has some projection, he wasn’t terribly impressive with Double-A Portland in 2010 (4.91 ERA, 1.47 WHIP) or in the Arizona Fall League (5.40 ERA, 1.80 WHIP). Many other publications have listed Turpen among the players most likely to be picked up by another team this year.

3. Nate Spears: 25-year old second baseman hit .272/.380/.463 with 20 home runs for Portland in 2010. If undrafted, he will likely serve as Pawtucket’s starting second baseman in 2011.

4. Cesar Cabral: 21-year-old lefty reliever who has shown flashes of brilliance in the past. Started the 2010 season with a 0.29 ERA in 31 1/3 innings with Low-A Greenville, but struggled after a promotion to Salem. While Cabral likely needs several years of development before hitting the majors, he’s precisely the type of player that teams often hone in on in the Rule 5 Draft hoping to catch lighting in a bottle.

5. Reynaldo Rodriguez: 24-year-old first baseman out of Colombia. Rodriguez has shown a lot of power potential, hitting .281 with 14 home runs for Greenville in 2010. While the potential is there, Rodriguez has never played above Low-A, and he was old for that level in 2010.

6. Manny Rivera: 21-year-old lefthander thoroughly impressed in three years of rookie ball from 2007-2009, and came out of the gate strong with Greenville in 2010, ending the season with 107 strikeouts in 129 2/3 innings. However, he’s a soft-tosser without a ton of projection, making him potentially less attractive to other teams.

7. Bubba Bell: 28-year old outfielder who grades out at average or slightly-above in all five tools. Bell hit .293 with Triple-A Pawtucket in 2010, and has also demonstrated extended success in the past, including a .370/.455/.665 campaign with High-A Lancaster in the first half of 2007.

8. Jorge Jimenez: 26-year old third baseman was selected by Houston in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft and subsequently traded to Florida, where he almost stuck out of spring training. Jimenez had a poor Triple-A debut with Pawtucket in 2010, hitting just .217 with 3 home runs.

9. Eammon Portice: 25-year old righty reliever with a nice low-90s sinker. Since he was drafted in 2007, Portice has consistently been among the Red Sox organizational leaders in strikeouts and strikeout rates, but he has struggled with consistency and leaving the ball up in the zone.

10. Blake Maxwell: Big, side-arming lefty with an imposing mound presence. The 26-year-old led the system in wins in 2010, going 11-1 with Salem, Portland, and Pawtucket, putting up a 2.90 ERA in the process. Maxwell has fringe-average all-around stuff.

Fall and Winter League notes

A total of 30 players in the Red Sox system have participated in offseason ball this winter, including eight in the Arizona Fall League, four in the Australian Baseball League, nine in the Dominican Winter League, three in the Puerto Rican League, three in the Venezuelan Winter League, two in the Mexican Pacific League and one in the Colombian Winter League.

Frankly, there haven’t been a lot of standout statistical performances. Perhaps the most impressive line belongs to Reynaldo Rodriguez, who’s hitting .328/.377/.655 with 8 home runs in 116 at-bats in Colombia -- but that league is not necessarily known for sporting a high level of competition. Elsewhere, Yamaico Navarro is hitting .261 with a .400 on-base percentage for Licey in the Dominican, Bubba Bell is putting up a line of .290/.403/.348 for Caracas in Venezuela, and Mitch Dening is hitting .271 for Sydney in the newly-formed ABL.

On the flip side, there have been some subpar offensive performances. Each of Luis Exposito (.118), Eric Patterson (.175), Josh Reddick (.182), Oscar Tejeda (.188), Aaron Bates (.178) and Henry Ramos (.154) are hitting below the Mendoza line. None have more than 69 at-bats, however, so there’s not a lot to take away from those lines.

In the Mexican Pacific League, Jorge Jimenez was traded from Ponce to Mayaguez for third baseman Fernando Cortez on Nov. 27. Overall, Jimenez is hitting .273 in 110 at-bats.

As far as pitching goes, the Red Sox haven’t allowed many hurlers to rack up a lot of innings this offseason. The most impressive statistical performance thus far belongs to righthander Miguel Gonzalez, who is 3-1 with a 3.56 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 43 innings for Mazatlan in Mexico. Gonzalez could begin the 2011 season in Portland’s rotation. Former first-rounder Kris Johnson has also fared well in 24 innings with Escogdo in the DWL, going 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA.

Offseason moves

We’ve already covered the prospects sent to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, so I won’t rehash that again here. According to reports, the “player to be named later” will be revealed at some point after the winter meetings and before Opening Day.

Former prospect Dustin Richardson was sent to Florida for Andrew Miller on Nov. 12. Miller was formerly a highly touted prospect in the Marlins and Tigers systems after Detroit selected him 6th overall in 2006. Boston then non-tendered Miller, and the pitcher is now in the process of exploring possibilities for a 2011 contract with several teams, including the Red Sox.

A few additions that could start the 2011 season in the minors are reliever Taylor Buchholz, outfielder Jordan Parraz and infielder Drew Sutton. Buchholz, claimed off waivers from Colorado on Nov. 15, was also non-tendered last week, but the possibility remains that he comes back on a minor league deal. He’s shown the ability to be a highly effective setup man when healthy, but he’s spent the majority of the past two seasons on the disabled list.

Parraz, 26, will likely be Pawtucket’s starting right fielder in 2011 if he makes it through the offseason without being dropped from the 40-man roster. However, the 40-man roster tends to be a last-in-last-out scenario with minor leaguers during the offseason, and Parraz was just claimed from Kansas City on Nov. 24. Boston’s 40-man roster presently sits at 39, and the team is likely to add several players over the offseason, calling into question whether Parraz makes the cut.

Sutton was signed to a minor league deal on Nov. 19. He’s a versatile utility man who’s able to play all infield positions and both corner outfield positions. He’ll serve as insurance depth in Triple-A in 2011.

Three other names signed to minor league deals were Brandon Duckworth, Jason Bergmann, and Charlis Burdie. Duckworth, a 34-year-old righthander, has over five years of major league service time with Kansas City, Houston, and Philadelphia, and he may compete for a role with the big club this spring. If he doesn’t make the major league squad, he’ll likely serve as a swing-man with the PawSox. Bergmann, 29, also has ample major league experience with Washington, and similarly will be given the opportunity to compete for a role with the major league club. Burdie, a 25-year-old righty reliever from the White Sox system, could be assigned to Salem or Portland in 2011.

As expected, the Red Sox added catcher Luis Exposito, pitcher Stolmy Pimentel and second baseman Oscar Tejeda to the 40-man roster on Nov. 19, protecting all three from eligibility for the Rule 5 Draft.

Boston released six minor leaguers since Nov. 10: pitchers Nestor Lastreto, Richie Wasielewski, and Chez Angeloni., catchers Chia-Chu Chen and Sean Killeen and infielder Jordan Sallis.

Four of Boston’s minor league free agents have signed minor league deals with other organizations. Catcher Kevin Cash signed with Houston on Nov. 8, lefthander Fabio Castro signed with Seattle on Nov. 24 and catcher Dusty Brown signed with Pittsburgh on Dec. 1. Tyler Lavigne, an independent leaguer signed who pitched with Lowell in 2010, re-signed with the Normal CornBelters of the Frontier League on Dec. 6.

Mike Andrews is the Executive Editor of SoxProspects.com and a special contributor to ESPNBoston.com.