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Needle in a haystack

Posted by Maureen Mullen December 4, 2008 05:57 AM

Whether there’s a Johan Santana, a Josh Hamilton, a Joakim Soria, a Roberto Clemente, or a Bobby Bonilla in thisyear’s Rule 5 draft may take several seasons to determine. All went on to have All-Star seasons; Santana won two Cy Young Awards, and Clemente was enshrined in the Hall of Fame after his death. Bonilla was traded back to and established himself with the Pirates, who had lost him to the White Sox just months earlier in the Rule 5 draft.

Several teams are hoping they can find that diamond in the rough in this year’s Rule 5 draft and polish him into a future star. This year’s draft is scheduled for Dec. 11, the final day of the winter meetings in Las Vegas.

That is the potential reward. The risks: It costs $50,000 to draft a Rule 5 player, and he must stay on the big-league roster all season or be offered back to the team from which he was selected for $25,000.

A few of the Red Sox’ recent Rule 5 picks include outfielder Adam Stern (2004), who appeared in just 36 games with just 15 at-bats in 2005 and was traded to the Orioles in 2006; right-handed pitcher Nick Debarr (2006), who was returned to Tampa Bay during the following spring training; and left-handed pitcher Lenny DiNardo (2003), who appeared in 22 games the following season and a total of 43 games with the Sox before being claimed off waivers by Oakland prior to the 2007 season.

With just one slot on the 40-man roster open (pending the signing of Japanese right-hander Junichi Tazawa to a major league contract), the Sox won’t have much room to be active in this year’s draft — and won’t need to be. But if there is one position that would likely interest them, it would be catcher. Finding a major league-ready backstop in the Rule 5 draft, however, would be unlikely.

“Any catching is so limited in baseball that if there’s any catching at all, it’s probably really bad if it’s Rule 5, I think,” said one major league scout. “That doesn’t mean some can’t be taken, but I look at some clubs, not only don’t they have two good catchers, they don’t even have one. Catching seems like, right now, the one position, that and shortstop, that is really struggling to find any good people.”

Players on the 40-man roster are exempt from the draft. Additionally, all players signed at age 19 or older are exempt from the Rule 5 draft for three years after being selected (in the amateur draft) or signed by their current organization, and players drafted or signed at age 18 or younger are exempt for four years. For example, players drafted or signed in 2007 at age 19 (or older) will be exempt through the 2009 Rule 5 draft, as will players drafted or signed in 2006 at age 18 (or younger). Most college players drafted in 2005 and most high school players drafted in 2004 will be eligible for this year’s draft.

Feeling a draft
Some of the Sox players who will be exposed in the draft:

Bubba Bell: The 26-year-old outfielder, Boston’s 42nd pick in 2005, hit .285 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI in 79 games for Double-A Portland in 2008.

Jeff Corsaletti: The 25-year-old outfielder, the Sox’ ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft, split last season between Portland (.312, 12 HR, 50 RBI in 78 games) and Triple-A Pawtucket (.232, two HR, 13 RBI in 44 games).

Sean Danielson: In his first season with the Sox after being acquired in a trade with the Cardinals for pitcher Joel Pineiro in 2007, the 26-year-old outfielder split last season between Portland (.309, two RBI in 22 games) and Pawtucket (.246, one HR, 21 RBI in 83 games).

Mickey Hall: Boston’s fourth overall pick in the 2003 draft, the 23-year-old outfielder split 2008 between high Single-A Lancaster (.216, one HR, two RBI in 12 games) and Portland (.232, 13 HR, 35 RBI in 82 games).

Iggy Suarez: Boston’s 26th pick in the 2003 draft, the 27-year-old infielder hit .242 with five home runs and 50 RBI in 124 games for Portland last season.

Beau Vaughan: The Sox’ fifth pick in the 2003 draft, the 27-year-old right-handed pitcher split 2008 between Portland and Pawtucket. He went 2-1 with 16 saves and 2.12 ERA in 39 games for the Sea Dogs, and 1-1 with one save and 3.18 ERA in seven games for the PawSox.

Maureen Mullen covers the Red Sox for OT and can be reached at mmullen@globe.com

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