Future aces soaking in experience
Promising hurlers Feliz, Holland taking crash course in camp
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Derek Holland was crossing the clubhouse on his way to the training room, or maybe to the lunch room.Basically he was minding his own business when club president Nolan Ryan called him over and asked a simple question.
"How long does it usually take for you to get your fastball going in the spring?" Ryan asked.Holland gave him an answer and quickly found himself deep in conversation about pitching with a Hall of Famer who has struck out more batters than any pitcher in history. "It's unbelievable talking to a legend like that," Holland said later. "He leaves me breathless. I don't know what to say to him. He's a Hall of Famer. He's a guy you want to be like and there you are, sitting there talking to him. It's amazing." Right-hander Neftali Feliz, who is from the Dominican Republic, has a different mentor. He finds himself fascinated by Vicente Padilla. "He just tells me to feel comfortable here," Feliz said. "I watch him work and it helps me prepare, too, just the way he does think." Feliz and Holland, the crown jewels of pitching in the Rangers farm system, take it all in every day. "I'm soaking it in like a sponge," Holland said. Those two -- more than anybody -- represent the future of the Rangers' pitching staff. Feliz was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the organization by Baseball America and Holland was the Rangers Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008. Feliz was ranked the ninth best prospect in baseball by MiLB.Com and Holland was 46th. Now that they are in big league camp for the first time, the question is how fast the future will come. "We just want to see what they can do and not put any expectations on them," Rangers manager Ron Washington said, and general manager Jon Daniels called them "long shots" to make the team. They are getting close though. Feliz, 20, throws 98 mph -- "effortless free gas" Washington said -- with a good changeup. His control has been excellent for such a young hard-thrower. While going 10-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 27 starts in 2008, Feliz struck out 153 batters in 127 1/3 innings, walking just 51. Holland, 22, throws 93-96 mph with an above-average changeup and also displays command, control and poise. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio was even better than Feliz's while going 13-1 with a 2.27 ERA in 26 starts. He struck out 157 and walked 40 in 150 2/3 innings. By comparison, Edinson Volquez, while going 14-6 with a 3.67 ERA, struck out 166 and walked 60 in 144 2/3 innings in his last season in the Minor Leagues in 2007 before developing into an All-Star after being traded to the Reds. But he also had 29 starts at Double-A and Triple A over the previous two seasons before his breakthrough with the Reds. Holland has made just four starts at Double-A while Feliz has made 10. Both say they need to work on their breaking balls. Feliz throws a curve and Holland features a slider. The pitches aren't Major League ready yet, and the Rangers' pitching graveyard is littered with young hurlers who weren't armed with an effective breaking ball when they reached the Majors. "Effortless free gas doesn't get Major League hitters out," Washington said. "You hang a breaking ball in the Minors and they pop it up. You do that up here and they lose it. It doesn't come back."
|"I'm here to learn and gain experience. My plan is not to make the team, but to learn as much as I can and go from there."|
|-- Derek Holland|
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.