NEFTALI FELIZ, RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: May 2, 1988
Signed: Int’l free agent, 2005 (Braves)
How Acquired: Free Agent
Country: Dominican Republic
Agent: Greg Maroni
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Feliz moved quickly up through the minors, first with Atlanta and then with Texas after being included in the Mark Teixeira trade. Baseball America ranked him as a top ten (in baseball) prospect for two years and he dominated when he debuted with the Rangers, becoming their closer in his first full year. He threw a fastball that averaged over 96 mph and topped out over 100, along with a hard curve and a change, although he later started throwing a slider rather than the curve. In 2012, though, Texas moved him to the rotation and the result was Tommy John surgery. Feliz’ recovery wasn’t as successful as many pitchers’, as his velocity dropped by about two and a half mph afterward. His K rate actually declined in 2011, while he was still a closer, and has stayed down ever since. Feliz is a flyball pitcher and he’s had a mild reverse platoon split over the course of his career. Texas dumped him during the 2015 season and he signed with Detroit, then the Tigers non-tendered him after the season. The Pirates signed him to a major league contract for 2016, with the deal calling for $3.9M plus $600K in possible incentives.
The Braves sent Feliz straight to rookie ball rather than the Dominican Summer League. Apart from a few too many walks, he dominated. After the season, BA ranked him Atlanta’s 18th best prospect.
Atlanta moved Feliz up just to advanced rookie ball and had him start most of his games. He continued to dominate there. At the trade deadline, the Braves sent him to Texas in the Mark Teixeira trade. The Rangers moved Feliz to the bullpen, except for one start, and had him concentrate on throwing his secondary stuff. The result was a very high walk rate and an extremely high K rate. After the season, BA named him the fifth best prospect in a very strong Rangers system and the 93rd best in all of baseball.
Feliz opened the season as a starter in low A and dominated through two-thirds of the season. Texas then jumped him up to AA, still keeping him in the rotation, and he continued to be very hard to hit, although his walk rate jumped. BA rated him the top prospect in Texas’ system and the tenth best in baseball.
In AAA, Feliz struggled a little as a starter, mainly due to control problems. Moving to the high-offense Pacific Coast League probably played a role. In late June, Texas moved Feliz to the bullpen, possibly in preparation for a callup. He dominated as a reliever, with a 0.71 WHIP and 11.1 K/9. The Rangers brought him up at the beginning of August and he was even more dominant as a reliever in the majors. He held hitters to a 124/207/210 line in 20 games.
Feliz continued to dominate as the Rangers’ closer, holding opponents to a 176/246/269 line.
Feliz continued to get good results as a closer, but some warning signs started to appear. He had a short stint on the disabled list in April and May with right shoulder inflammation. His walk and K rates both worsened considerably. His velocity remained a little above 96 mph and he continued to generate swings and misses at the same rate, but hitters took more pitches.
Texas during this period adopted a policy pushed by the team’s CEO, Nolan Ryan, of “toughening up” their pitchers. The notion drew widespread praise from an unthinking, old-school-obsessed media that worshiped Ryan, but in the real world Ryan’s practices succeeded in wrecking one of the sport’s better pitching staffs. One victim was Feliz, whom the Rangers moved to the rotation despite the warning signs from the previous year. Feliz lasted through mid-May, then went on the DL with elbow inflammation. He tried to rehab in July, but ended up having Tommy John surgery.
Still recovering from the elbow surgery, Feliz opened the season on the disabled list and wasn’t sent for a rehab assignment until the beginning of August. Texas called him up on September 1 and he got into half a dozen games. Unlike many Tommy John survivors, his velocity didn’t rebound, as his fastball averaged 93.7 mph.
The Rangers optioned Feliz to AAA to open the season and didn’t call him up until early July. On the surface, he seemed to have rebounded. His numbers in both AAA and the majors, though, were buoyed by unsustainable batting averages on balls in play, .203 in AAA and .176 in the majors. His K rate plummeted in the majors, as his velocity remained under 94 mph and he produced swings and misses at a lower rate than before the surgery.
Feliz opened the season as the Rangers’ closer, then went on the DL in late May with an abscess. When he was ready to return at the beginning of July, Texas designated him for assignment, which he refused and became a free agent. Detroit signed him and he finished the season there. At both stops, Feliz got hit much harder than he ever had before. Other than his brief rehab season in 2013, he’d never allowed opponents to hit higher than .194. In 2015, opponents hit .298. Feliz also had control problems with Texas. The problems were partly fueled by an extremely high BABIP of .349, as well as an absurdly low LOB% of 49% while he was with the Tigers. His xFIP was 4.42 overall, which was bad but much less alarming than his overall ERA of 6.38. On the plus side, his average fastball velocity, which was just 93.7 with Texas, jumped to 95.3 with Detroit, after he’d spent the time on the DL. His percentage of swings and misses also jumped, from 8.9% to 10.3% after the move. (It had consistently been over 11% in 2009-11.) He also started using his slider much more often and it was his most effective pitch while he was with the Tigers.
Feliz bounced back somewhat, pitching mainly in a seventh-inning role for the Pirates. His velocity returned to the 96 mph he’d thrown before the Tommy John surgery, and his K rate was the highest it had been since his 20-game debut in 2009. His season was pretty mixed, though. He had a lot of trouble with gopher balls, allowing ten, and he gave up hard hit balls 37% of the time; the major league norm is about 31%. Feliz was helped quite a bit by a low BABIP of .240. Fangraphs was so unimpressed with his season that their version of WAR thought he was worth -0.1 wins. His season came to an early end when he suffered an upper arm injury in early September and wasn’t able to make it back.
Feliz pitched only decently for the Pirates and, given their budget, it’s questionable whether he was worth his contract. He’ll be a free agent again after the season and it wouldn’t make sense for them to try to bring him back.
|Signing Bonus: $100,000
MiLB Debut: 2006
MLB Debut: 8/3/2009
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2016
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 8/2/2009
Options Remaining: 2 (USED: 2014)
MLB Service Time: 6.151
|June 6, 2005: Signed as an international free agent by the Atlanta Braves.
July 31, 2007: Traded by the Atlanta Braves with Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Texas Rangers for Ron Mahay and Mark Teixeira.
August 2, 2009: Contract purchased by the Texas Rangers.
July 4, 2015: Designated for assignment by the Texas Rangers; became a free agent on July 10.
July 11, 2015: Signed by the Detroit Tigers as a free agent.
December 2, 2015: Non-tendered by the Detroit Tigers and became a free agent.
January 6, 2016: Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent.