There are a lot of jokes this time of year about players who arrive in camp “in the best shape of their lives.” Because it’s one of the easiest stories to write in the sports media, because the vast majority of players are freaks who can only add so much more fitness anyway, it usually doesn’t translate to unexpected MVP and Cy Young Awards.
But I think there’s an important piece here that isn’t discussed. Currently, no one is writing a “best shape of his life” article about Cole Hamels. Cole Hamels in injured and unlikely to start the season on the Phillies active roster. When a player is in “the best shape of his life,” the first thing it tells us is that he’s not currently injured. For any player, that’s meaningful, and for a pitcher it’s rather a big deal.
Now, there might be still more that matters with Felix Doubront. It was widely reported last spring that Doubront was out of shape when he arrived at camp. Over the season, Doubront seemed to improve as he worked himself back into shape, but he never fully regained the 91-95 mph heater that he’d showed in 2012. Without the big fastball, Doubront’s mostly just a guy. With it, he has front of the rotation upside. If the reason he lost that speed was his fitness, then perhaps there’s some reason to be more hopeful about Felix Doubront in 2014.
A lefty with a true low-90s fastball and a solid changeup/curveball combination, that’s a heck of a young pitcher. I hope he’s back this year, and the recent stories give us some reason for optimism.
It should be noted, here, that Doubront’s 2012 velocity was a major change. The reason I, among others, became a believer in Doubront as a pitcher with real upside, is that he started throwing a fastball 91-94 mph. If that had been Doubront’s fastball in the minor leagues, he would have been a top 50 prospect. Three-pitch lefties with low-90s heat are always real prospects. But he had never thrown that hard before. Baseball America 2011 profiles Doubront’s stuff and shows no sense that he could show the fastball he did in 2012 for the Red Sox:
As a starter, Doubront works at 88-92 mph and touches 94 with his fastball, with good sink. As a reliever, he challenges hitters more often with a fastball that sits 92-93. He uses a changeup and a cutter to keep righthanders at bay He mad major strides with his curveball in 2010. After minor league pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel helped him find a new grip, Doubront shocked the Red Sox by returning to the majors in July and showing a solid curve.
With that averageish fastball, Doubront is the fringe prospect. With that new curveball, effective off-speed stuff and a true low-90s heater, Doubront has a lot more upside than evaluators thought he did in the minor leagues. Whether he can regain that one-year velocity remains the question.