ST PETERSBURG, FL: Felix Doubront #61 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Felix Doubront was a pitching prospect in Boston's farm system, but was rather unheralded. While the focus was mostly on whether or not someone like Michael Bowden could come back and be the pitcher scouts expected him to, or how quickly Casey Kelly would adjust to the rigors of a minor-league rotation, Doubront quietly made his way to the majors for spot starts in his sixth year with the organization, after signing out of Venezuela as a teenager.
He didn't make Kevin Goldstein's Top 11 prospects before the 2010 season, but he was impressive at the upper levels of the system during that year before making it to the bigs. He profiled as a reliever, mostly due to inconsistent command and the lack of a true out pitch in his repertoire, but Boston's long-term plan for the southpaw involved seeing if he could start.
Doubront made an appearance as the #8 prospect in a Boston system that Goldstein described as being "down a lot" thanks to the Adrian Gonzalez trade with the Padres. He was a three-star arm, ranked below a future utility player like Yamaico Navarro as well as below Brandon Workman, who had yet to pitch professionally. After a 2011 campaign in which he showed up to spring training out of shape, and dealt with numerous, small injuries throughout the year, Doubront didn't even register on Goldstein's top 20, nor did he feature in his top 10 talents under 25 in the organization. Goldstein wasn't alone, though, as Baseball America ranked Doubront in the top 10 just once, despite Boston never having an elite system during his time in the minors.
His stock had fallen in just a year's time, but there was still reason to hope that he could turn into something. Just a year before, Baseball Prospectus 2011 (and by proxy, the Over the Monster author you are reading right now) had this to say about Doubront:
Doubront was a starting pitching prospect with stuff that surpassed his results to begin the year and exited it as a reliever at the major-league level. After making the jump to Triple-A, Doubront survived a pair of spot starts and earned a bullpen gig, punching out 12.1 per nine in that role before a strained pectoral ended his season. The Venezuelan southpaw has above-average velocity, and all of his pitches -- four- and two-seam fastballs, change, and curve -- can miss bats if his command is present. Just 23 years old, Doubront's future could lie in the middle of a rotation, but he will serve primarily as a reliever for at least the 2011 season.
That command was the difference maker for Doubront. If he couldn't rein it in, then despite having a starter's repertoire, he was going to end up in the bullpen. That seemed like a waste given his arm and his youth, and if the Red Sox had one thing heading into spring training, it was plenty of other options to become the lefty out of the bullpen. That meant Doubront still had a chance to become a starter, even if it seemed like an outside one thanks to the number of veterans signed to compete for a rotation slot.
New pitching coach Bob McClure got to work trying to bring consistency to Doubront's game. By changing where his foot landed while he pitched, McClure hoped both command and health would become part of the Doubront package, as landing flat on the front of his foot rather than heel could help him avoid the kind of injuries that derailed the careers of other talented pitchers with the same landing issues.
Eight starts and 44 innings into the year, Doubront looks as good as he ever has. The walks would be alarming, at 4.3 per nine, if not for the fact he's striking out a batter per inning. That keeps his K/BB over two, right where it needs to be if he's going to survive in the majors as a starter.
He's featured his full repertoire this year, showing swing-and-miss ability with most of his offerings -- especially his change-up, which has emerged as a weapon -- and has an above-average ERA to show for it. The one thing he still needs to work on is pitching deeper into games. He lasted just 5-2/3 innings against the Rays, in part because of a catcher's interference by Kelly Shoppach that extended the third, as well as a ball hit right back at Doubront that should have been a double play but instead resulted in yet another longer frame. He had actually looked efficient for the most part, though, like he was finally going to throw seven full and effective innings for the first time.
Right now, because of the lack of length to his starts, Doubront is still a fifth starter. He's been a highly-effective one, but to get to his true middle-of-the-rotation potential, he'll need to start pitching deeper into games. You can see him getting there, slowly, as he's looked more impressive nearly each time out this year. With the rest of the rotation struggling to find its footing, and Daniel Bard even more of a project, Doubront's emergence has -- and will -- be significant in 2012.