The Houston Astros promoted pitching prospect Michael Feliz to the major league roster yesterday, replacing injured veteran Scott Feldman. Although usually a starter in the minors, Feliz will be deployed in the bullpen for now. He is one of the most promising young pitchers in the Houston system, so let's take a look.
From the Dominican Republic, Feliz's pro career began with controversy back in 2010 when he signed with the Oakland Athletics for $800,000. This deal was cancelled when he tested positive for a banned steroid. He went back on the market with reduced value and ended up with the Astros, signed for $400,000.
After erratic performances in rookie ball, Feliz broke out in the New York-Penn League in 2013 with a 1.96 ERA and a 78/13 K/BB in 69 innings. Moved up to Low-A Quad Cities for 2014, he saw an ERA spike to 4.03 although his other stats remained solid enough with a 111/37 K/BB in 103 innings.
He opened 2015 in the pinball machine that is Lancaster in the High-A California League, holding his own with a 4.41 ERA and 33/12 K/BB in 33 innings; the ERA was considered misleading and the scouting reports were strong. He moved up to Double-A Corpus Christi in the Texas League last week and was brilliant in his first game, fanning seven men and allowing just one hit (a homer) in a four-inning save.
Feliz is a 6-4, 225 pound right-hander born June 28, 1993. His arm strength is outstanding, with a fastball that can hit 99 MPH and is consistently in the 93-95 range, with the higher velocities standing out in shorter stints. His breaking ball (variously described as a hard curve or slider) can be overpowering when his command is on, and he's shown improvement with his change-up. His command of all three pitches has steadily sharpened, thanks to the development of more consistent mechanics over the last couple of years.
This video from Bullpen Banter is from the New York-Penn League back in 2013. You can see the athleticism here and the quality stuff.
This video from Minor League Baseball is from last summer. Although the view isn't as good as the Banter video, you can see the athleticism again.
The key question for Feliz going forward is his role: is he a starter or reliever long-term? When his command and change-up are in gear he looks like a dominant starter, but he's still rather inconsistent and it doesn't take much imagination to view him as a future bullpen force. He'll pitch in relief for now to get his feet wet and "give him a taste of the big leagues" according to Astros manager A.J. Hinch as quoted in the Houston Chronicle.
Breaking Feliz in through the bullpen seems wise, but his long-term role is still to be determined. Certainly the upside is high enough for him to deserve a chance as a starter eventually, at least in my view. He rated a Grade B+ in the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book, ranked as the Number 33 pitching prospect in baseball. That still seems a reasonable placement.