Doubront Seeks To Defy Recent Red Sox History

PAWTUCKET, R.I.—Pawtucket lefthander Felix Doubront represents a rare commodity for the Red Sox and their recent player-development history.

Not only does the 22-year-old Venezuelan have a chance to join Jon Lester as that infrequent lefty in Boston's big league rotation, but Doubront also could become the organization's first international amateur acquisition to spend meaningful time in Fenway Park since Dominican third baseman Wilton Veras appeared in 85 games in 1999 and 2000.

Doubront made his big league debut in mid-June, making a spot start for Daisuke Matsuzaka, in the culmination of what had been a six-year climb through the system. He filled in for an injured Clay Buchholz in early July, right before the all-star break. In all, Doubront went 1-1, 4.22 with five strikeouts and six walks in 10 2/3 innings.

The Red Sox signed Doubront as a 16-year-old from Carabobo in July 2004, and he quickly rose to prominence in the organization as one of its more promising lefty pitching prospects. But as the likes of Abe Alvarez, Kason Gabbard, Kris Johnson and Mike Rozier fell by the wayside, Doubront remained.

"Felix is a very talented kid who has a good mix of stuff, delivery and size, and (he) is a very good competitor," Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen said. "He has done a lot to improve himself over the last few years and finally took a major step to the major league level, which was very much deserved."

Doubront has come a long way since 2007, when an 8.93 ERA over 11 starts for low Class A Greenville got him booted back to the short-season New York-Penn League for the balance of the season. The young lefty had hernia surgery prior to the 2007 campaign and also developed a staph infection in his leg during spring training—injuries that took him out of his usual conditioning routine.

Additionally, a strained elbow sent him to the disabled list for a week in July.

But Doubront mastered the Class A level in 2008, going 13-9, 3.69 while striking out more than a batter an inning, mostly for Greenville. He led all Red Sox farmhands with 138 strikeouts and earned his place on the 40-man roster in November.

Up To His Old Tricks

Doubront further solidified his prospect status with a fine turn for Double-A Portland in 2009, when his 3.35 ERA ranked second in the Eastern League and 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings were fourth.

He picked up this season right where he left off a year ago by going 4-0, 2.51 in eight starts for Portland. That earned him a rapid promotion to Pawtucket, where it was more of the same: 3-2, 2.36 in six starts.

In all, Doubront had gone 7-2, 2.45 this season in 14 turns, while striking out 62 batters and walking 26 over 70 innings. He led the system in wins and ERA during the first half.

Because of this, the Red Sox did not hesitate to call on Doubront on June 18 to face the visiting Dodgers, a game more notable for being Manny Ramirez's return to Boston. Doubront earned the win by working five innings and allowing six hits and three earned runs. He struck out two.

Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur has enjoyed working with Doubront, expressing high praise for the lean, 6-foot-2 lefty.

"Felix is very personable and he's a great student of the game," Sauveur said. "He was able to get a taste of the majors this year, and he's very hungry for another bite."

When asked about what makes Doubront so effective, Sauveur noted the overall balance and poise he shows on the mound.

"Felix's best pitch isn't just one pitch, but it's his fastball, curveball, and changeup," he said. "All of those pitches are at the major league average.

"The thing that really sticks out most about Felix is his command that he shows on the mound. That's the key to his game and the best thing he's got going right now."

Sauveur said that the sky is the limit for Doubront, who sits at 89-92 mph with good sink and has touched 94, thanks in part to a long-toss program. His changeup is more advanced than his curveball, which has helped him find success versus righthanded batters.

By his own admission, Doubront struggles to throw his breaking ball for strikes at this stage of his development.

Bucking The Trend

"Felix is obviously now a name that has jumped on people's radars," Sauveur said.

"After he got a taste of the majors this June, he now knows what the big leagues are all about, and he wants to get back there. The next time that he does get to the majors, it will be a permanent thing."

If Doubront does establish himself in the Red Sox rotation, he would join Lester as the only lefthanded starters of note, homegrown or otherwise, over the past decade and a half. Prior to Doubront's first start this season, the last non-Lester lefty to start a game for Boston was Gabbard on July 26, 2007.

Whether because of Fenway Park's inviting left-field wall or not, the Red Sox have relied on righthanded starters in recent times. Going back through the 1996 season, lefties have made just 350 of 2,350 starts (14.8 percent) for the Red Sox—when the major league average hovers between 25 and 30 percent.

Lester, of course, has taken the vast majority of those starts (108), while just seven other pitchers have made more than 10.

Ultimately, the Red Sox have high hopes for Doubront.

"In the long term, we very much see Felix as a part of our rotation in the future," Hazen said. "It's hard to pinpoint a timeframe, but with his combination of size and stuff, we believe he will be able to contribute to the Red Sox rotation in the coming seasons."

Andrew Clark is a freelance writer 
based in Boston