That was pretty much the only word going through my head while watching highlights last night of Neftali Feliz’s MLB debut for the Texas Rangers.
Having lived in Dallas for a little over a year now, I have grown quite knowledgable about Neftali Feliz because the sports talk radio guys down here talk about him quite often. If you are an astute baseball observer, you have probably heard of him too. Feliz turned heads with an impressive performance at the Future’s Game during All Star weekend, and he was one of the players that Toronto reportedly wanted in any deal for Roy Halladay…but a player the Rangers understandably would not part with.
As if we needed it, last night gave us another glimpse into the reasons why Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels did not trade Feliz.
Acquired in the Mark Teixeira trade a few years back, Feliz has steadily worked his way through the Rangers’ minor league system and up the charts of top prospects. In fact, according to the most recent release by MLB.com, Neftali Feliz is the 6th best prospect in the game. He has an electric fastball that Harold Reynolds aptly described on the MLB Network last night as “exploding” out of his hand. It looked to me like it was a pretty straight fastball without a lot of movement, but when you can touch triple digits on the radar gun you don’t need a whole lot of movement. According to the MLB.com scouting profile on Neftali Feliz, he is consistently between 94-99 with his fastball, with his secondary pitches (curve, change) “showing flashes of being at least Major League-average pitches.”
But again, let me just reiterate the most important conclusion you can take away from Feliz’s two inning debut last night against Oakland: WOW.
And this brings me to the point of today’s article. Many of you probably do not care that the Texas Rangers have yet another phenom in the Majors (joining Elvis Andrus and Derek Holland, with Justin Smoak on the way), but many of you probably are looking for someone to provide a late season boost for your fantasy teams. Even though Feliz was transitioned from a starter to a reliever this year (and perhaps only for this year), and even though he is not currently closing, I offer you this piece of what I hope proves to be sage advice: run, don’t walk, to the waiver wire and snatch this guy up before the other managers in your league wise up to the fact that a kid with a “once in a generation-type arm” (according to H.R.) is now firing fastballs in the Majors that can provide a great supplement for your pitching stats.
For his debut performance last night, Feliz authored two perfect innings in which he blew away four Oakland hitters for strikeouts. As noted by Andy Behrens of Yahoo! Sports, the competition was not exactly the greatest measuring stick for Feliz. Oakland has a porous offense and Jack Cust, one of Feliz’s victims, strikes out more than Screech Powers did with Lisa Turtle on Saved By The Bell. But take a look at Neftali Feliz’s minor league numbers for a sense of what you can expect:
- 2009 (AAA): 77.1 innings, 25 G (13 S), 3.49 ERA, 1,28 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 2.5 K/BB, 2 HR
- 2008 (A, AA): 127.1 innings 27 G (27 S), 2.69 ERA, 1.099 WHIP, 10.8 K/9, 3.00 K/BB, 3 HR
Those are pretty good numbers, especially the K rate and his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. Like most young pitchers with extremely strong arms, Feliz walks a few too many batters at this stage in his career (i.e. David Price), but his ability to retire batters via strikeout helps to mitigate any potential damage.
- 2008 (A, AA, AAA): 109.2 innings, 19 G (19 S), 2.30 ERA, 1.131 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 3.41 K/BB, 7 HR
- 2008 (MLB): 14 innings, 5 G (1 S), 1.93 ERA, 0.929 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 3.0 K/BB, 1 HR
- 2008 (Playoffs): 5.2 innings, 5 G, 1.59 ERA, 1.059 WHIP, 12.7 K/9, 2.00 K/BB, 0 HR
Like Feliz, Price is a starter that the Rays brought up to bolster their bullpen. Their minor league numbers are very comparable, and Feliz has Price-like talent that could very well lead him to similarly dominant numbers out of the pen for the Rangers over the final two months of the season.
There is one key difference though: when Price reached the bigs, the Rays already had Troy Percival entrenched as the closer. The Rangers have used Frank Francisco as their closer this year, with CJ Wilson filling in while Francisco has been dealing with injuries and illness. The Rangers did recently activate Francisco from the DL, but manager Ron Washington said that Francisco will not be immediately placed into the closer’s role as they will work him back slowly. Â And while CJ Wilson has been much better this season (13 saves, 3 blown saves) in the closer’s role, he is also prone to inconsistency. For example, Wilson blew the save last night against Oakland.
With the Rangers having a razor-thin margin for error in their quest over the next two months for a playoff spot, I have to think that Feliz will get some opportunities to close. Considering the fact that he has the arm strength to go multiple innings, as he showed last night, Feliz could very well pick up a few two-inning saves over the balance of the season, perhaps on nights when the Rangers need to rest Francisco and/or Wilson and especially when playing division opponents who are more likely to familiar with those two pitchers. The unfamiliar heat of Feliz could be a valuable 9th inning option when, for instance, the Rangers go up against the Angels again.
The Rangers would not have brought Feliz up if they did not intend to use him regularly. And while guys slated for middle relief don’t fit into nice, neat fantasy classifications like starter or closer, they can provide solid fantasy value if used properly.Â
Currently, Feliz is available in 99.5% of ESPN fantasy leagues and in 86% of Yahoo! fantasy leagues. Additionally, he has SP eligibility in both formats despite the fact that he will most likely pitch out of the bullpen for the remainder of this season. What this means is that you do not have to replace a closer to use him. And considering the fact that on most days you will not be filling all of your SP slots, Feliz can be deftly slotted in one of those slots for most days so you can grab his Ks, plus any Wins or Saves, whenever he pitches.
It is important when grabbing a middle reliever that you can have them in your lineup every day. Predicting when they will pitch is obviously difficult, as with a closer, so you want them in the lineup on a consistent basis.
And think about it: if Feliz gets 2-3 appearances per week, he most likely will give you a minimum of 4-5 innings. In those innings, he will probably generate 5-6 Ks while either providing a slight boost to your ERA and WHIP, or at least not harming it if he pitches close to his professional averages. And vulturing Wins and Saves from a non-starter/non-closer is always valuable. I think it is quite likely that Feliz can grab 2-3 wins and 4-5 saves over the balance of the season.Â He also could end up sliding into the permanent closer’s role, in which case his value obviously skyrockets.
At this point in the season, most valuable established players are most likely already unavailable. Your waiver wire choices are probably between a bunch of guys who look a lot like. Neftali Feliz provides an opportunity for you to grab a prodigious talent who will be employed by his team in a way that maximizes his current ability.
We’ve seen David Price struggle this year as a starter, but guys with such electric arms can usually perform well out of the bullpen early in their careers (i.e. Joba Chamberlain) even if they rely heavily on one pitch. The change of pace from the previous pitcher, combined with the lack familiarity of hitters, plus the ability over short outings to hide subpar secondary pitches, makes fireballing phenoms like Neftali Feliz excellent late season options.
We have seen guys like Feliz, who is apparently called Mr. Happy by his Rangers teammates (according to 1310 The Ticket in Dallas this morning), provide significant value time and again in past fantasy seasons. You will only have a few days to pluck him off the waiver wire before another manager wises up, so let Neftali Feliz make you Mr. Happy and go grab him right now if you can.
Just as he may prove to be with the Rangers, Neftali Feliz could end up being the missing piece that vaults you into the playoffs.
* – Neftali Feliz pink backpack photo credit: AP via Big League Stew
* – Neftali Feliz holding ball photo credit: Harry How/Getty Images via Bleacher Report
* – Neftali Feliz minor league photo credit: MarkHancock.Blogspot.com