Top prospects have been a major storyline this spring for the Boston Red Sox, but the team also has established young players who still have room to grow. In particular, pitcher Felix Doubront could be poised for a breakout season in 2013.
The 25-year-old southpaw signed with Boston as a free agent out of Venezuela in 2005. While he had stints with the team in 2010 and 2011 as a reliever, he became a full-time member of the major league rotation last season.
According to FanGraphs.com, his fastball averaged just under 93 mph last year, complementing a cutter, curve and changeup. Their advanced statistics show his curve was his most effective pitch, but as fellow pitcher Ryan Dempster told The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham, “A left-hander who can throw 95 and keep the ball down? That is pretty special. With his stuff, he can over-match a lot of people.”
Doubront had his ups and downs last year for a team that lost 93 games. He made 29 starts and went 11-10 with a 4.86 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 161 innings. But, he had a 1-5 record and 6.04 ERA in his final nine starts, a likely result of throwing 32 more innings than he had logged in any previous season.
Another positive was the 4.61 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 95.1 innings he had against teams with winning records. Such ability to produce against better teams is a good trait for a pitcher playing in the traditionally tough American League East.
Despite his struggles down the stretch, the Red Sox were excited by what they believed Doubront could accomplish in 2013. Needless to say, they were sorely disappointed when he reported to spring training this year in less-than-stellar shape.
He has bounced back from that setback to post a 4.05 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 13.1 spring innings. He‘s on track to be the team’s fourth starter, ahead of veteran right-hander John Lackey.
I think we internally are all in agreement—he's got as much talent as anybody in our rotation. And there's work to be done to strive for consistency, whether it's game to game or inning to inning or just finishing off hitters in a more efficient manner. That's not because of a lack of attempt or trying. It's just his further maturing as a pitcher.
Abraham reported that among the things Doubront will do in an effort for more consistency in 2013 is throw his changeup more regularly and work at a quicker pace.
Picking up the tempo between pitches is a philosophy being espoused to the entire Boston pitching staff by new pitching coach Juan Nieves, according to The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo.
Doubront also told Abraham that he plans to not get as distracted by umpires, which he felt got him off track at times last year:
This year is going to be different. I know that right away. When I’m on the mound, I get so pumped. But I’m going to change that.
I know I got too mad last year. You watch, it’s going to be a big difference. I’m going to stay calm. Just forget about it and throw the next pitch.
Doubront has enthusiasm in spades, which is a great sign for a young pitcher. He shared with Browne that he enters the season with a specific plan for his development:
I keep learning. Every outing I learn a little bit more. Like I said before, I'm so happy. I feel good. My arm feels good. I was driving the ball down. That adjustment that I made—to stay tall and stay back on the rubber, that makes me happy. I think that from now on, I'm going to get that and put it in every start just to make a quality start every time out.
Having already proven he can hang in and even thrive against major league hitters, Doubront’s next hurdle will be determining how good he can really be. The Red Sox would like nothing better than to see him reach new levels, and that could come as soon as this season.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference