Sunday, December 6, 2015

Random Former Prospect Sunday - Neftali Feliz

During the season, Sundays are set aside to take a look at a prospect at random, but with the minor league season over, I wasn't sure what to do for my Sunday article until this nugget of an idea came my way. How about we look at players who ranked in Baseball America's Top 100 while part of the Braves' organization, yet never appeared for the Braves? Over the next few months, I'll take a look at the prospects that were traded or simply faded away and just to keep up with my theme, I randomized the players.

I am way behind in my writing, which is really sad because I like the idea behind this series. Let's see how former Atlanta prospects who were once Baseball America Top 100 guys turned out despite the fact that never played for the Braves. It sounds fun...at first. But then you have to write about it and that's just a hassle. Oh, well. Who's up next? Oh, one of the pieces in the MASSIVELY, HUGELY SUCCESSFUL Mark Teixeira trade? Sounds joyous.

R. Yeatts | Getty Images
A long, long time ago...in a galaxy not too far away, Feliz was a damn intriguing prospect. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2005, Feliz had the velocity and stuff that receives attention immediately, but unlike so many of his peers, he had a good idea of where his pitches were going. After a season in the Dominican Summer League that was fairly underwhelming, it was in 2007 that Feliz said, "hey yo." Yes, just like Scott Hall.

Including Feliz is a little bit of a cheat for this list of former Braves prospects who never played for the Braves despite being a Top 100 prospect. Fact is, Feliz wasn't a Top 100 guy for the Braves because he was traded in the year where his production pushed him into the Top 100 Prospects. However, he probably wouldn't have been on said list without his work with Danville before the trade so I'm counting it. In eight games, all but one as a starter, Feliz struck out a batter an inning and allowed no homeruns. He would have likely made a lot of lists for best prospects in the Appalachian League had the Braves not packaged him in the deal that brought Teix to Atlanta.

Texas wasn't sure what they had. They tried Feliz as a reliever, as a starter, and back to being a reliever. Regardless of the role, Feliz rocketed up both the Rangers' system and the BA Top 100, ranking 93rd, 10th, and ultimately 9th heading into the 2010 season. The Rangers brought back both Frank Francisco and C.J. Wilson from their 2009 squad, though Wilson headed to the rotation. Francisco was kept on, but after blowing a pair of save opportunities, Texas flipped Feliz to the ninth inning role in mid-April. He would not give it back, nailing down 40 saves - the fifth time a Ranger had reached that mark (Joe Nathan would increase the club to six in 2013). Feliz's hard-throwing skillset was impressive enough, but the fact he walked so few (2.3 BB/9) was thoroughly impressive. While the Rangers fell short in their quest to get back to the playoffs, Feliz went home with the Rookie of the Year award.

The most interesting thing - to me, at least - about Feliz is that I still have this impression that he had a fairly sustained run of a few excellent years before he turned into the Feliz we've seen over the last couple of seasons. This is actually a flawed outlook as Feliz was only really good in 2010. The following season, he saved 32 games, but his K's fell and his walks went up. That's a dangerous combo, yet the Rangers said "let's try him in the rotation! It worked with C.J. after all!" For Feliz, it did not work. While he got credit for a complete game, his numbers trended south and he ultimately got hurt, limiting the Great Starting Feliz Experiment to seven starts.

After appearing in a half-dozen September games in 2013, Feliz competed with Joakim Soria to be Nathan's replacement as the Rangers' closer in 2014. Feliz was clearly the lesser of the two and was demoted to the minors to open the season. He was decent enough in the minors, though homer prone, before the Rangers' trade of Soria to the Tigers put Feliz back in the role that he had been briefly successful in. He saved 13 down the stretch and had a nice 1.99 ERA, but carried a 4.90 FIP because all of his other marks were horrid.

The Rangers still went with Feliz as their closer entering 2015. The horrid marks continued, but the nice ERA disappeared. As did Feliz's grip of the closing role as he lost that in mid-May to Shawn Tolleson. By July, the Rangers grew exhausted trying to wait for Feliz to resemble the 2010 Rookie of the Year form. He was released nearly nine years after being traded to Texas. He is currently 4th on the Rangers all-time saves list with 93.

He finished the year in the Tigers' organization, though found little success there. Recently, the Tigers non-tendered the righty rather than go through arbitration with him. Teams are naturally intrigued by the possibility Feliz re-figures it out for their team and will look to buy low.

For Braves fans, Feliz is just another piece that was dealt in a trade that ultimately brought few positives to the Braves. Effectively, Feliz and the rest of the players acquired were turned into a year of Teix, Casey Kotchman, and Adam LaRoche. Not exactly a winning formula. While Feliz's success in the majors has so far been short-lived, his legacy as one of the group that got away is firmly entrenched.

Previous Random Former Prospects
Gorkys Hernandez
Matt Belisle
Matt McClendon

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