Neftali Feliz was signed by the Atlanta Braves as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2005. He made his North American debut in '06, posting a 4.03 ERA for the Gulf Coast League Braves, with a 42/14 K/BB ratio in 29 innings...an exceptional K/IP mark. Scouts praised his 93-95 MPH fastball, but pointed out the need for better command and additional polish in all phases of the game. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2007 book, noting his long-term potential...remember C+ is a very good grade for a guy in the GCL in my system.
Feliz began 2007 with Danville in the Appy League, posting a 1.98 ERA but wiht a 28/12 K/BB in 27 innings. He was traded to the Rangers in the Teixeira deal, and assigned to Spokane in the Northwest League...a step up in competition. He fanned 27 guys in just 15 innings for Spokane, but walked 12 with a 3.60 ERA. Again, he continued to impress people with his arm strength, but the command was still a problem. I raised his grade to B- in the book this year, and wrote the following: "I want to see some full-season numbers before going higher than Grade B-, but if his command comes around, he could be one of the best pitching prospects in baseball a year from now."
Feliz appears to be taking that step forward. In 14 starts for Clinton in the Class A Midwest League, Feliz is 5-2, 2.24 with an 83/24 K/BB ratio in 68.1 innings, just 44 hits allowed, with a 1.71 GO/AO ratio and only one homer given up. The walk rate is good, not superb in relative terms, but certainly improvied. His K/IP and H/IP are excellent and he is dominating the league. Midwest League sources indicate this fastball is consistently in the mid-90s, and he's made major strides refining his curveball and changeup. I also like his athleticism, which gives him some additional velocity projection as he matures and should, in theory anyway, help him stay healthy.
The statistical breakdown is interesting. He's holding lefties to a .176 mark, righthanded hitters to a .202. His home/road splits are rather weird...the ERA isn't much different, 2.13 at home vs. 2.37 on the road. But in 38 home innings, he has a 54/20 K/BB but just a .159 average against, while on the road in 30.1 innings he has a 29/4 K/BB but a .222 average against. Given these sample sizes I don't know if it means anything or not, but it is at least interesting that his command has been so much better on the road, even if he's been more hittable there. Feliz has a 57/13 K/BB in his last 47 innings, so it looks like he's polished up his command a bit more over his last few starts.
Obviously there is a lot to like here, and I don't have much hesitation about raising his grade all the way to Grade B+. I am working on a new version of my prospects list, and Feliz will definitely rank somewhere high up, although where exactly I don't know yet. But given the progress he's made this year, he's clearly an elite talent. Rangers fans should be very happy to have him. Feliz didn't get as much attention as some of the other names in the Teixeira trade, but if he maintains this sort of progress he could be the best of them all.