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

It's why Volquez had trouble in 2005-07 cracking the Rangers' rotation and why the club feels Thomas Diamond needs more time in the Minor Leagues. Feliz and Holland said a better breaking ball is a priority for both.

"I want to get better control and a better feel for it," said Holland, who has been taking tips on the pitch from veteran Eddie Guardado. "I'm not happy with it. I need to make more improvements with it."

It may be tempting to get Holland and Feliz here fast if the Rangers have more pitching troubles, but they received yet another harsh reminder last season about rushing a young pitcher.

Tommy Hunter, a supplemental-round pick in 2007, raced through the farm system last season because of his talent, poise and command, making nine starts at Class A Bakersfield, eight in Double-A and five with Triple-A Oklahoma before being brought to the Major Leagues on Aug. 1 to replace Eric Hurley.

He made three starts for the Rangers and was 0-2 with a 16.36 ERA.

"It was definitely not what I expected," Hunter said. "My agent, Scott Sanderson, and I were talking about it: What if I had ended the season at Double-A? It would have been a successful season. But it was pretty crazy the way it turned out. You take it and move on. You know you can get there, now you've got to stay there."

"I've had a lot of people say [I was rushed], but I didn't think I did. It's just an experience you have to gain. I was definitely feeling a lot of self-pressure. I was nervous, no question about it. But I didn't pitch effectively. I didn't pitch down in the zone. I didn't correct what I was doing wrong and fix it immediately."

Hunter finished the season at Triple-A Oklahoma and will likely start this season there as well. Both Feliz and Holland are preparing themselves for more time in the Minor Leagues.

"I'm here to learn and gain experience," said Holland. "My plan is not to make the team, but to learn as much as I can and go from there."

The Rangers can't afford any missteps. Expectations are high for both. They are the Rangers future.

"I feel good about that," Feliz said. "But I know I have to work really hard to be ready and show that I can do it."