Scouting Rangers Prospect #17: Neftali Feliz

With a heater that can top out at 100 miles per hour, Neftali Feliz may have the best fastball in all of minor league baseball, let alone the Rangers system. Lone Star Dugout takes a look at the 19-year-old pitcher with an in-depth scouting report.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Neftali Feliz
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: May 2, 1988
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 180
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Despite his million-dollar arm, Neftali Feliz has been a relative unknown in the prospect kingdom for much of his professional career.

After signing with Atlanta as an international free agent in the summer of 2005, Feliz struggled with control in his pro debut while playing with the Dominican Summer League Braves. The club still liked what they saw in the 6-foot-3 hurler and invited him to their fall instructional league in the U.S.

By the time Feliz's U.S. regular season debut rolled around in the summer of 2006, he had shown improved stuff and control. With his fastball sitting around 93 mph, occasionally reaching the upper-90s, Feliz dominated the rookie-level Gulf Coast League competition, striking out 42 batters in 29 innings. The pitcher also walked just 14, which is not a bad number for a pitcher who was said to have control issues.

Feliz was still managing to fly under-the-radar coming into the 2007 campaign, as few considered him to be among Atlanta's top 10 or 15 prospects.

For the second consecutive year, the native of the Dominican Republic began the season in extended spring training before joining a short-season club. Feliz would eventually join the advanced-rookie Danville Braves. The right-hander ‘only' struck out 28 batters in 27.1 innings, but he was even tougher to hit, as he held opposing batters to a .191 average.

Though many prospect experts had yet to pick up on Feliz, the Rangers knew of him well. The club was excited to acquire the flame-throwing 19-year-old as part of the Mark Teixeira trade. Still overshadowed by some of the deal's bigger names – Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, and Elvis Andrus – Feliz came to the Texas organization still looking to make a name for himself.

Feliz was able to do just that when he struck out 27 batters in 15 innings with short-season Spokane despite being one of the youngest players in the entire league.

The righty is currently pitching with the Single-A Clinton Lumber Kings, where he figures to work out of the rotation for the entire season.

Also See: Instructional League Report (October 17, 2006)
Player Profile: Neftali Feliz (January 7, 2007)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Rick Adair (August 24, 2007)
Sizing up the right-handed pitching prospects (October 16, 2007)

Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Changeup.

Feliz is best known for his overpowering fastball, which sits anywhere between 94-100 miles per hour. Feliz currently spends most of his time in the 96-97 mph range, but he showed the ability to dial it up to 100 mph in spring training. His secondary pitches – a slider and a changeup – are still extremely raw. Feliz throws his slider in the upper-70s, low-80s. The pitch has shown promise, but he struggles to command it on a consistent basis. The hurler has a loose arm, often times making his upper-90s heat seem effortless. Clinton pitching coach Danny Clark recently said Feliz struck out all 10 batters he faced while hitting 99-100 mph on the radar gun during a spring training start against a Seattle minor league club.

Projection: Feliz's ceiling sits in one of two places: front-line starter or dominating closer. Obviously he must still improve his fastball command, but Feliz's heater is certainly a big league offering. If Feliz is able to develop two big league caliber offspeed pitches, he has the potential to become a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher in the Majors. If he is only able to develop one other pitch, Feliz could still have a long career at the back of a big league bullpen.

2008 Outlook: It is not hard to expect instant results when watching Feliz. But don't expect amazing numbers right off the bat. Feliz could probably blow away most Low-A hitters on his fastball alone, but the Rangers will spend the season helping Feliz develop his slider and changeup. With both pitches being inconsistent offerings, he may not post the dominant stats right away, but they will come in time. Feliz will almost certainly spend the entire season in the Clinton rotation and he will probably be on a relatively strict pitch count in an effort to limit his innings.

ETA: 2011.

Year Team W-L IP H BB SO ERA
2006 GCL Braves (RK) 0-2 29.0 20 14 42 4.03
2007 Danville (RK) 2-0 27.1 18 12 28 1.98
Spokane (SSA) 0-2 15.0 13 12 27 3.60

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