Over the next few weeks, I'll be publishing a series of articles on the Red Sox farm system, profiling a dozen or so top-tier prospects that have high potentials and will likely help the club as the next wave of homegrown talent. You can read part one on Ryan Kalish here.
When considering Boston's minor league system, there are few major league-ready options available to G.M. Theo Epstein when (not if) members of the big-league rotation break down. I certainly expect bounce-back years from Josh Beckett and Dice-K, but given the health record of those two and Clay Buchholz, there will likely be a handful of missed starts between them.
While the talent level of their farm system remains high, the blue-chippers right now are clustered in Double-A and below. Drake Britton and Anthony Ranaudo offer serious promise of elite play in the big leagues but are likely ticketed for Boston no earlier than 2013. If the need arises this season, the responsibility will fall on the Venezuelan shoulders of Felix Doubront.
Doubront (23 years, 6'2", 205 lbs.) brings surprising experience within the organization for a young player. Signed as an international free agent at 17, Felix has paid his dues at every level of organized ball for the last half-decade.
The 2010 campaign was a coming out party for Doubront, posting a record of 8-3, with a 2.81 ERA and 72 Ks in 80 innings between Portland and Pawtucket. More importantly, Felix allowed only one long ball in that span. Home runs had plagued him in previous seasons.
What Role Will Doubront Fill 2011 and Beyond?
Doubront was asked to fill multiple roles during his cup of coffee in Boston, as a starter and reliever. His line with the Red Sox (2-2, 4.32 ERA, 1.48 WHIP) will not have him confused with Jon Lester anytime soon. While his strikeout totals remained solid, he gave up three homers in only 25 innings, and Felix hasn't shown the control (three-plus BB/9 innings) so far to handle being a big league starter over the long haul.
But clearly Epstein and Co. like what they have seen so far in Doubront. There is an outside chance that Felix will break camp with the Red Sox as a middle reliever, but Francona and Theo have made it plain that they would prefer him to spend a full year in Triple-A developing as a starter. Given the gamut of lefties invited to spring training, this is the more likely scenario.
Doubront has middle-of-the-rotation stuff, with a fastball consistently around 93, a big 3/4 curveball and a screwball/changeup that has the potential as a plus-wipeout pitch. What remains to be seen is if he can command all his pitches over a full season. If he continues to improve in 2011, Felix has the inside track to fill a spot in the rotation when the opportunity presents itself.