Feliz, Holland blazing through Minors
Texas hurlers sport scorching fastballs, need offspeed work
FRISCO, Texas -- Right-hander Neftali Feliz and left-hander Derek Holland possess two of the best fastballs in the Texas organization, and that's why they have quickly ascended through the Rangers' farm system.Both have shown they can light up a radar screen at all Minor League parks this season, and they have become two of the best stories in the Rangers' system this season. They are two of the latest in a series of impressive arms in the system that have raised the Rangers' hopes that they'll be able to solve their pitching problems from within. But both hurlers realize velocity alone won't punch their ticket to the Major Leagues, and they are working toward becoming complete pitchers. "My velocity's jumped up, but velocity isn't really a big deal to me," Holland said. "You still have to get people out, and they can all hit a fastball." The 20-year-old Feliz burst onto the Double-A scene with Frisco on July 7, dialing his heater up to 101 mph in his first start above low Class A. Holland was no less impressive in his Frisco debut, slinging 95-97 mph fastballs with consistency on Aug. 13 -- less than two months before the southpaw's 22nd birthday. With those sizzling radar readings, impressive stats have followed. Feliz had struck out 35 in 30 1/3 innings with Frisco as of Sunday, including eight over a four-inning appearance on Aug. 8. The righty, who posted a 2.52 ERA at Class A Clinton before his promotion, has a solid 3.56 ERA with Frisco. "As easy as his mechanics are, it doesn't look like he's putting out the effort to throw the ball that hard, so I think it really catches a hitter off guard," Frisco pitching coach Terry Clark said.
In Holland's first start with Frisco, he struck out 10 in eight shutout innings. For the season, he has 138 strikeouts in 132 2/3 combined Minor League innings, but the velocity he owns as a left-hander is what impressed his new pitching coach."You don't see many of them [lefties] with that kind of velocity," Clark said. "This kid sits there at 94-97 [mph]. It's smooth, and he's got good arm action." But Feliz showed just how important it is for a young pitcher to have keen command of every pitch in his arsenal during his last start Thursday. Feliz, who depends on his fastball as he continues to develop his offspeed pitches, couldn't locate it -- or any of his pitches -- from the onset of his outing. He walked three batters in the first inning alone, and issued two more free passes before leaving after the third inning. He threw just 37 of 73 pitches for strikes. "I felt good going out, but I don't know what happened," Feliz said. "I couldn't tell you what happened. Everything felt fine." Clark said before the game that Feliz's pitch limit for the season is 115-120 innings, and the appearance bumped his total to 112 1/3. After the game, Feliz said he was beginning to feel a little fatigued, but he wasn't ready to shut down for the season. In fact, he expressed a desire to be one of Texas' September callups, but a fine-tuning of his offspeed pitches -- including a swift 89-mph changeup -- may need to come first. "His breaking stuff is starting to come along," Frisco catcher Tim Gradoville said. "He's starting to work breaking balls into more counts. Obviously, he can throw the fastball, but I think the biggest thing is developing his secondary pitches so he can become a complete pitcher." While Holland has increased his velocity significantly since entering the Rangers' system in 2007 out of Wallace State Community College, he too has room for improvement with his offspeed pitches. Holland relied on his fastball in his Frisco debut, throwing it 80 percent of the time. His slider, which he didn't begin throwing until college and didn't begin throwing properly until the Minors, needs the most improvement. "His slider's probably below average right now just because he doesn't have the feel to throw it as hard as he should throw it," Clark said. "His changeup is probably a touch below average or right at average. He has a pretty good feel for it, and he's going to throw it a lot better." As far as Clark is concerned, he doesn't see the point in forcing Feliz and Holland onto the Rangers' roster before the end of the season. "I don't think they're quite developed enough," Clark said. "If they make a lot of progress in the offseason, they'll find themselves in the big leagues soon enough. This year would be a push.
"I don't think there's really a need to push them that fast. In the future, you've got two bright stars who can really help the team in Arlington for a long time, and I think that's what they're looking for."
Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.