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May 4, 2008
Bearing Down on Neftali Feliz
It's been a good first month of the minor league season on a personal level--in less than four weeks, I've been able to see three No. 1 prospects. Royals' infielder Mike Moustakas disappointed (and continues to struggle), and Arizona right-hander Jarrod Parker wasn't fantastic but showed plenty of potential. Number three came on Friday night, as the Clinton LumberKings came to visit Kane County and opened the series by starting right-hander Neftali Feiliz, the lightning-armed Dominican who came over from the Braves in the Mark Teixeira trade who was also celebrating his 20th birthday. For the third straight time, I also got lucky, because with ominous skies and storms approaching, I initially set up in the press box for the game, only to quickly see a friend from the scouting community waving at me from five rows behind home plate. Access to radar gun readings and professional opinions while I watch? I'll put up with some wind and rain.
From the Parker piece, here's a reminder on how to read my pitch charts: First, a quick primer on how I track pitches. This is not how teams do it or anything official, this is just how I keep track when I have access to gun readings. Basically, each notation has three pieces on information: TYPE-VELO-RESULT. Under Type, FB is fastball, CU is curveball, is slider; CH is changeup; Velo is simple enough. Under Result, 'b' stands for ball, 's' for swinging strike, 'c' is a called strike, 'f' a foul ball, and 'x' is a ball in play. So, an 81 mph slider taken for a strike is SL81c.
So let's get right to this. The first thing the struck me was Feliz' size. Listed at six-foot-three, he's more like six-foot-even, maybe six-foot-one. He's lean, and well-proportioned, throwing from a three-quarters arm slot. His mechanics are clean, easy, loose, and effortless.
Shane Keough: FB92c, FB92b, FB92B, FB94x = Hard single to LF
Christian Vitters: FB92b, FB93b, FB92x = 6-4-3 double play
Greg Dowling: FB93b, FB95s, FB93f, CH87c = strikeout
Corey Brown: FB90b, FB93f, FB95s, CH84s = strikeout
Matt Smith: FB94c, SL79b, FB94s, FB95c = strikeout
Toddric Johnson: CH84b, FB94s, FB94f, FB94s = strikeout
Gustavo Rosendo: FB92x = single to LF
Larry Cobb: FB94s, FB94f, FB94f, FB93f, FB94x = single to LF
Walter Correa: FB94b, SL78c, FB94f, FB96s = strikeout
Before the leadoff man stepped to the plate, the scout noted, "Here's where it gets fun. Second time through the order and he's established the fastball, so he's going to start with the mind-[screw]."
Shane Keough: CH86c, CH86x = single to left past diving third baseman, run scores.
Christian Vitters: FB94b, FB93f, FB94b, FB96f, FB95s = strikeout
Greg Dowling: FB93b, FB92x = 6-3 groundout
Corey Brown: FB94f, FB95f, FB96s = strikeout
Matt Smith: SL79b, FB93b, FB95x = F9
Toddric Johnson: FB92x = infield single to the right side
Gustavo Rosendo: SL76b, SL78s, FB95s, SL78x = F7
Larry Cobb: CH84b, CH87s, FB95s, SL82b, FB96x = Double to CF
Walter Correa: FB96b, CH86b, FB96b, FB94b = Walk
Shane Keough: FB93f, FB95b, FB93b, FB95f, FB94b, SL80s = strikeout
One scout in attendance summed up the outing:
He was very impressive. The arm is electric, and he established his fastball early in the game. He certainly flashed some average breaking balls, and that changeup has a good chance to be plus. He should end up with average command and control, as he's smooth and repeats his delivery very well. The things I really liked was how he could turn it up a notch when he needed it--that's what big leaguers do.
At the end of the 2006 season, I ranked Feliz as the No. 3 prospect in the Braves system, a decision that was met with mockery and derision by some. A year later, despite the fact that he pitched just 42 1/3 innings in 2007, he was suddenly in everybody's Top 10 lists, and in a loaded Rangers system as well. I ranked him No. 1 this time, which was once again met with mockery and derision. After seeing him in person and getting thoughts from the scouts in attendance, I stand by the ranking.