SoxProspects.com: Who will Sox protect?

Look for the Red Sox to make three or four roster moves on Saturday to protect players from selection in the 2010 Rule 5 Draft. Per the major league rules, eligible players must be added to their teams’ respective 40-man rosters by close-of-business on Nov. 20 in order to be protected from selection in the Rule 5 Draft, which is scheduled to take place on Dec. 9, the final day of the winter meetings. The following players in the Boston system will be eligible to be selected if they are not added to the 40-man roster by close of business Saturday:

Aaron Bates, Anatanaer Batista, Bubba Bell, Ronald Bermudez, Cesar Cabral, Yeiper Castillo, Chih-Hsien Chiang, Caleb Clay, Bryce Cox, Zach Daeges, Mitch Dening, Luis Exposito, Kyle Fernandes, Miguel Gonzalez, Jorge Jimenez, Kris Johnson, Ryan Khoury, TJ Large, Will Latimer, Ryne Lawson, Santo Luis, Leandro Marin, Wilson Matos, Blake Maxwell, Ryne Miller, Adam Mills, Pedro Perez, Kelvin Pichardo, Wilfred Pichardo, Stolmy Pimentel, Jason Place, Eammon Portice, Ryne Reynoso, Jason Rice, Manny Rivera, Matt Sheely, Nate Spears, Jon Still, Oscar Tejeda, Daniel Turpen, and Will Vazquez.

Boston’s 40-man roster presently has 36 players on it, leaving four open roster spots. It’s expected that three or four players will be added on Nov. 20, and the primary candidates are catcher Luis Exposito, second baseman Oscar Tejeda, starter Stolmy Pimentel, and reliever Jason Rice. Exposito and Rice each ended the 2010 campaign with Double-A Portland, while Tejeda and Pimentel ended the season with High-A Salem.

Exposito, 23, spent the entire season with Portland, putting up a line of .260/.339/.416 with 11 home runs. He’s presently playing with Cibao in the Dominican Winter League. The Sox will almost surely add the backstop to the 40-man roster to protect him from Rule 5 selection this offseason. While Exposito has some potential to be a starting catcher at the major league level down the line, he currently projects as more of a long-term reliable backup. On offense, he makes average contact and has plus raw power potential, but needs to improve on plate discipline. Defensively, Exposito has quality catcher's tools, including a strong arm and good instincts, but he needs refinement in his game-calling ability, throwing accuracy, and ball-blocking skills. Exposito will likely begin the 2011 season as Pawtucket’s opening day catcher.

Tejeda is a highly-regarded prospect, but at the age of 20 he’s a few years from the major leagues. Regardless, Boston will likely protect the Dominican infielder to ensure that another team doesn’t take a flyer on him. Signed as an international free agent in July 2006, Tejeda has shown tremendous tools and flashes of brilliance during his rise through the system, but like most prospects playing well above his age-level, he’s been inconsistent. He put together an impressive all-around campaign with Salem in 2010, hitting .307 with 11 home runs and 17 stolen bases, converting from shortstop to second base in the process. Over the long-term, Tejeda has the potential to be a major league starter, and could be best suited at second base, third base, or even center field. He’s also playing with Cibao in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, hitting .222 in 27 at-bats. Look for the Red Sox to challenge Tejeda with an assignment to Double-A in 2011.

Pimentel is one of the most highly-touted pitching prospects in the Red Sox system, but like Tejeda, he is only 20 and is a year or two away from seeing major league action. The again, he already has three major league caliber pitchers in a low-90s fastball, a very good curveball, and an excellent changeup. When he fills out his frame, his fastball could very well get up to the mid-90s. The Dominican right-hander has impressed at every level he’s pitched at, including stops with the Dominican Summer League Red Sox, short-season Lowell, Low-A Greenville, and Salem – following a similar career path as that of Red Sox left-hander Felix Doubront. In 2010, Pimentel went 9-11 with a 4.06 ERA, striking out 102 batters in 128.2 innings. While that stat line may not be all that awe-inspiring, most scouts are still excited about Pimentel’s long-term projection. He’ll likely join Tejeda on Portland’s roster in 2011.

Rice was actually selected by the Red Sox in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft in 2008. After he put up a 2.44 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP in 41 appearances with Salem in 2009, Boston left him unprotected last off-season, and he made it through the 2009 Rule 5 Draft without being selected again. This offseason, the Red Sox may not have that luxury, as the righty reliever followed up his 2009 campaign with an impressive season in Portland in 2010, putting up a 2.85 ERA while saving 13 games and striking out 71 batters in 60 innings with the Sea Dogs. He has since followed that up by pitching in 13 games with Peoria of the Arizona Fall League, putting up a 3.86 ERA. Rice mixes in an above-average 92-94 mph fastball and a decent high-70s curveball. He’ll likely begin the 2011 season in Pawtucket, and is a prime candidate to see time with the big club later in the season.

Two other outside possibilities for protection are reliever Daniel Turpen and second baseman Nate Spears. Turpen, acquired from San Francisco for Ramon Ramirez at the 2010 trade deadline, failed to impress in the Arizona Fall League this off-season, putting up a 5.40 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP in 10 appearances, leading to speculation that Boston will leave the right-hander unprotected. Spears, 25, hit .272 with a .380 OBP and 20 home runs for Portland in 2010, but he’s already made it through several off-seasons without being protected on the 40-man roster.

Other than the six players discussed above, it seems unlikely that any other players in the Red Sox system will be protected this year, but you never know, as the Sox have pulled a few surprises in recent off-seasons. 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 Cesar Cabral, Adam Mills, Eammon Portice, and Blake Maxwell, as well as outfielder Bubba Bell.

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