Who will Sox protect from Rule 5 draft?

Top Red Sox prospect Will Middlebrooks is sure to be added to the team's 40-man roster by Friday. Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMI

Look for Boston to make three or four roster moves on Friday to protect players from selection by other teams in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft.

Eligible players must be added to their teams’ respective 40-man rosters by close-of-business on Nov. 18 in order to be protected from selection in the Rule 5 Draft, which is scheduled to take place on Dec. 8, the final day of the winter meetings. The following players in the Red Sox system will be eligible to be selected if they are not added to the 40-man roster by close-of-business on Friday:

Michael Almanzar, Anatanaer Batista, Ronald Bermudez, Drake Britton, Cesar Cabral, Yeiper Castillo, Miguel Celestino, Caleb Clay, Mitch Dening, Ryan Dent, Brandon Duckworth, Justin Erasmus, Ruben Flores, Joantoni Garcia, Seth Garrison, Zach Gentile, Miguel Gonzalez, Charlie Haeger, Jon Hee, Mitch Herold, Jennel Hudson, Brock Huntzinger, Jeremy Kehrt, Matt Kramer, Will Latimer, Michael Lee, Che-Hsuan Lin, David Mailman, Leandro Marin, Will Middlebrooks, Daniel Nava, Dennis Neuman, Michael Olmsted, Josue Peley, Tony Pena, Wilfred Pichardo, Eammon Portice, Ryan Pressly, Roberto Ramos, Manny Rivera, Reynaldo Rodriguez, Charle Rosario, Pete Ruiz, Nate Spears, Matt Spring, and Tony Thomas.

Boston’s 40-man roster presently has 35 players on it, leaving five open roster spots. It’s expected that three or four players will be added on Nov. 18. The primary candidates are third baseman Will Middlebrooks, outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin, and pitchers Drake Britton and Cesar Cabral. Middlebrooks and Lin each ended the 2011 season with Triple-A Pawtucket, while Cabral ended 2011 with Double-A Portland and Britton concluded the campaign with High-A Salem.

Middlebrooks, 23, spent time with both Portland and Pawtucket in 2011, posting a line of .285/.328/.506 with 23 home runs. He also saw time with Scottsdale of the Arizona Fall League recently, and was batting .250 with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 56 at-bats before injuring his thumb in pursuit of a foul ball, ending his stint in the AFL. The Red Sox will undoubtedly add the third baseman to the 40-man roster to protect him from Rule 5 selection next month. Now considered the top prospect in the system, look for Middlebrooks to spend most of 2012 with the PawSox, barring a need to serve as an injury-fill in, with the hopes of joining the club as a late-season roster addition. He’s a candidate to take over the hot corner full time for Boston as early as 2013.

Lin will be given a long look with the big club in spring training. While he doesn’t project as a starter for a first division club at this point, he’s a solid bet to develop into an above-average fourth or fifth outfielder for a contending team, largely due to his outstanding defensive skills, above-average speed, and impressive plate discipline. He’s also capable of playing all three outfield positions. In stops at Portland and Pawtucket in 2011, the Taiwanese 23-year-old hit .245/.340/.305 in 466 at-bats, stealing 28 bases in the process. Most recently, Lin impressed scouts in the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series, where he led the Chinese Taipei national team in hitting with a .417 batting average. It’s more-likely than not that the Red Sox will add him to the 40-man roster on Friday. He’ll then likely begin the 2012 campaign as the starting center fielder or right fielder for the PawSox.

By all accounts, Britton had a horrific season in 2011, but he’s exactly the type of player that other teams covet in the Rule 5 Draft, meaning he’s likely to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster on Friday. The 22-year-old left-hander throws a 92-95 mph fastball, a plus mid-70s curveball, and a developing low-80s change-up, all from a smooth, efficient delivery. He struggled mightily with control in confidence in 2011, ultimately going 1-12 with a 6.91 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP for Salem. Regardless of his poor results in 2011, most scouts still project Britton as a future major leaguer, perhaps even a middle-of-the-rotation starter or a high-leverage lefty reliever. If there’s one type of player that is an easy target for the Rule 5 Draft, it’s a young left-handed pitcher with major league stuff. While it’s likely he’s added to Boston’s 40-man roster on Friday, it’s also likely that he’s slated for a return engagement with Salem to start the 2012 season.

Cabral, a 22-year-old lefty out of the Dominican Republic, was selected by Tampa Bay in the 2010 Rule 5 Draft, and almost stuck with the Rays before he was returned to the Red Sox at the end of spring training (not before he was claimed off waivers by Toronto and then re-claimed by Tampa Bay). He posted a 2.95 ERA, a 1.40 WHIP, and struck out 70 batters in 55 innings between stops in Salem and Portland in 2011. He’s currently pitching for Aguilas in the Dominican Winter League, putting up a 1.59 ERA in 5.2 innings. If left unprotected this offseason, he would almost surely be selected in December’s Rule 5 Draft, and would have a very good chance of sticking, and even contributing, with his selecting club in 2012. If he’s protected, he would likely begin the 2012 season in Pawtucket’s bullpen with an opportunity for a mid-to-late season promotion to Boston.

Two other outside possibilities for protection are outfielder Daniel Nava and Colombian first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez. Nava, who helped the injury-riddled Red Sox in 2010, spent the entire 2011 season with Pawtucket, hitting .268/.372/.406 with 10 home runs. He cleared waivers in May, meaning Boston will likely take its chances and leave the outfielder unprotected this offseason. Rodriguez hit .286/.355/.526 with 18 home runs for Salem and Portland in 2011. He will turn 26 in February having not played a game above Double-A, but he’s a later developer with some projectability as a major league bench player. He has an outside shot to be protected on Friday.

Other than the six players discussed above, it seems unlikely that any other players in the Red Sox system will be protected this week, but you never know, as the Sox have pulled a few surprises in past offseasons. Potentially unprotected Red Sox players who other teams may be willing to take a flyer on in next month’s Rule 5 Draft include pitchers Caleb Clay, Miguel Celestino, Brock Huntzinger, Michael Olmsted, Ryan Pressly, and Manny Rivera.