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Monday, November 19, 2012
Sox minor-league roster moves expected

By Mike Andrews,
Look for Boston to make three to five roster moves on Tuesday to protect some minor leaguers from selection by other teams in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft.

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. 6, the final day of the winter meetings. If selected, the player must stick on the drafting team’s 25-man roster for the entire 2013 season, or must be offered back to the Red Sox.

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 Tuesday:

Michael Almanzar, Chris Balcom-Miller, Luis Bastardo, Jeremiah Bayer, Ronald Bermudez, Carson Blair, Dan Butler, Miguel Celestino, William Cuevas, Jose De La Torre, Ryan Dent, Marco Duarte, Leonel Escobar,
Josh Fields, Jose Garcia, Zach Gentile, Derrik Gibson, Aly Gonzalez, Alex Hassan, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Drew Hedman, Jon Hee, Pete Hissey, Brock Huntzinger, Jeremy Kehrt, Will Latimer, Mitch Maier, Heiker Meneses, Boss Moanaroa, Gerardo Olivares, Oscar Perez, Ryan Pressly, Manny Rivera, Charle Rosario, Pete Ruiz, Felix Sanchez, Matt Spring, Kyle Stroup, Tony Thomas, Christian Vazquez, Raynel Velette, Allen Webster, Ryan Westmoreland, Shannon Wilkerson, Tyler Wilson, Alex Wilson, and Steven Wright.

Boston’s 40-man roster presently has 39 players on it, leaving only one open roster spot -- and that’s before the club has made any major forays into the free-agent market. However, a handful of players on the 40-man roster are candidates to be designated for assignment, so there is certainly some flexibility to add more than one player. It’s expected that about three to five players will be added on Nov. 20.

The primary candidates are right-handers Allen Webster and Alex Wilson and catcher Christian Vazquez. Webster and Vazquez each ended the 2012 season with Double-A Portland, while Wilson spent the entire campaign in Triple-A Pawtucket.

Webster, 22, was acquired from Los Angeles in the August 2012 megadeal. He spent most of the 2012 season with Double-A Chattanooga, where he went 6-8 with a 3.55 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 117 strikeouts, and 57 walks in 121.2 innings. He features a solid 92-95-mph fastball, a plus 82-84-mph changeup, and a solid-average mid-80s slider. He projects well as a back-end starter, and is expected to open the 2013 season with Pawtucket. He’s a sure bet to be added to the 40-man.

Similarly, Wilson almost surely will be added to the roster this week. A former second-round draft pick, Wilson was converted from Pawtucket’s starting rotation to the bullpen in early 2012. He ended the season with a 3.72 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 78 strikeouts, and 33 walks in 72.2 innings. The 26-year-old’s arsenal includes a 92-95-mph fastball that tends to be on the flat side, an inconsistent but occasionally-plus mid-80s slider, and a below-average mid-80s changeup. He struggles with keeping a consistent release point, which has had adverse effects on his command. With a few improvements in his main development areas, he has the makings of a seventh-inning reliever.

Between stops with Portland and High-A Salem, Vazquez posted a line of.254/.344/.369 with 7 home runs. Having just turned 22, the Puerto Rican backstop still has intriguing potential. He is an excellent defensive catcher with a strong frame, solid agility, a plus arm, and decent ball-blocking and game-calling skills. On offense, he shows average bat speed and power potential, but struggles against high-velocity fastballs and sharp breaking balls. At this stage, he profiles as a dependable backup catcher, but could develop into a platoon starter. The front office reportedly thinks very highly of Vazquez, and as such it’s believed he’ll be protected.

Five other candidates to be added are right-handers Josh Fields, Steven Wright and Brock Huntzinger, catcher Dan Butler, and outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker. Of those five prospects, the most likely to be protected are Fields and Hazelbaker.

The 27-year-old Fields had a breakout season in 2012, posting a 2.01 ERA and 0.96 WHIP, while striking out 78 and walking 18 in 58.1 innings. With a major league caliber fastball and curveball, he’s the type of pitcher that could easily stick at the back end of a major league bullpen for all of 2013, while having value as a potential 7th/8th-inning reliever in his peak years. If left unprotected, he would be a strong candidate to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft.

Wright was acquired from Cleveland for Lars Anderson in July. The 28-year-old knuckleballer can serve as a spot starter at the major league level, but might have a tough time sticking on a 25-man roster for an entire season. It’s more likely than not that he’ll be left unprotected.

Huntzinger is in a similar but slightly different situation as a reliever. He might be able to stick as a back-end reliever in a second-division bullpen, but he also doesn’t have the type of upside that other teams typically target in the Rule 5 Draft. The same goes for Butler -- he could probably make a major league club as a limited backup, but his ceiling is just that. Boston may risk leaving both players unprotected, but it wouldn’t be an absolute surprise if either were added to the 40-man.

On the other hand, Hazelbaker has a glimmer of impact potential. Between Portland and Pawtucket, he hit .273/.335/.472 with 19 home runs and 36 stolen bases in 2012. His speed and power combination, coupled with his ability to play an adequate left field and center field, make him an attractive Rule 5 candidate. The 25-year-old former fourth-round pick would make a nice bench option for a second-division team in 2013, with the potential to develop further in future years.

Other than the eight players listed above, it seems unlikely that any other players in the Red Sox system will be protected this week, but you never know. 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 Miguel Celestino, William Cuevas and Ryan Pressly, infielders Michael Almanzar and Heiker Meneses, and outfielder Alex Hassan. The Boston front office has likely calculated that even if drafted, those players have lesser chances of sticking on another club’s 25-man roster in 2013, thus they would be returned to Boston in the spring.