Back for his second go-round with the Red Sox's offseason rookie program, Felix Doubront is coming off an impressive year in which he compiled a 3.35 ERA in 26 starts at Double-A Portland. The lefty then made four appearances in the Venezuelan Winter League, compiling a 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings pitched.
He's put himself in position to have a shot at the starting rotation at Triple-A Pawtucket next season and even a shot at a late-season call-up -- as long as he can get to be more consistent.
Doubront saw his walk rate jump from 5.2 percent to 9.7 percent last season, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio tumbled from 4.93 to 1.94. If he's going to succeed at Triple-A and at the major-league level, that number is going to have to start going the other way.
Here's the good news: Doubront didn't turn 22 years old until after the season ended, meaning he's younger even than Japanese phenom Junichi Tazawa. He still has time to develop.
"As a young player in Double-A, he more than held his own last year," Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen said on Wednesday. "He's got to show more consistency, especially with the strike-throwing. He gets himself in a lot of trouble that he probably shouldn't. That will come with time and repeating the delivery and throwing more strikes, especially early in the count, because he has stuff to get guys out even more consistently than he showed."
Doubront was the only pitcher on the 40-man roster who did not earn a call-up to Boston last September thanks in large part to his heavy workload. He threw fewer innings last season (121) than he had the season before (129 1/3), but he actually faced more hitters in the process, a sign of a pitcher who has to labor through tough spots.
He also saw the length of an average start drop from close to five innings down to less than 4 2/3.
"We expect him to probably haul more innings, which means being a little bit more efficient with his pitch counts," Hazen said. "We're not going to let him go out there and throw 150 pitches in a minor-league game. If he wants to get through six and seven innings, he's got to be able to show us he can do it in 90 to 100 to 105 pitches."