It’s the time of year when the Washington Nationals need to hunt down bargains on minor league deals. Neftali Feliz would be worth considering on that front.
It’s now less than three weeks until the Washington Nationals will have their pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in West Palm Beach. They will currently be on the hunt for a few pitchers to invite to camp who hope to win a job, and they would be wise to consider Neftali Feliz.
We’ve already seen this process start off with the signings of Henderson Alvarez and Vidal Nuno to minor league deals earlier this offseason. While that’s a good start, the Nats need to keep adding this way given the current lack of starting and relief pitching depth.
That’s where Feliz comes in, hoping that he can recapture some of his previous success in camp or in Triple-A. You may remember that he was a key part of the Texas Rangers teams that went to back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011 as a lockdown closer.
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However, since leaving Texas, he’s had mixed results in time with the Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Royals, and most recently in Triple-A with the Arizona Diamondbacks. For the last of those teams, he had to settle for a minor league deal, which he will probably be looking for again this offseason.
When he was originally in the Rangers minor league system he was a starter before converting to the bullpen in an effort to get his electric arm to the big quicker. But since then, he’s made a few attempts to convert back to a starter, including with the Reno Aces last season when he went he went 5-2 with a solid 3.75 ERA.
He also had a successful stint with the Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League this offseason as a starter. He started four games, pitching to the tune of a 1.25 ERA in 21.2 innings. The LIDOM is far from major league standard, but it’s not exactly A-ball either, so there has to be some stock in impressing down there.
It’s tough to track down what it was that caused that Feliz’s downturn in the major leagues though. His fastball continued to sit in the mid-90s, his slider was still solid and his zone percentage held firm too. But his strikeout rate dropped and walk rate rose which raised red flags.
But it’s clear that his fastball will be key to any success that he may look to have in 2019, as the years he’s struggled, hitters wRC+ against his fastball has been way north 100, but his successful years it’s been way south of 100.
Yes, it’s still highly unlikely that he may figure it out heading into spring, but that’s the whole idea on minor league deals. If it works, then you get a diamond in the rough, if it fails, then no harm no foul and he can be kept around as depth. He could turn out to be an interesting low-risk flier that could fill either a starter or reliever role for the Nationals in Spring Training with a chance to impress, which is all he can ask for.
Neftali Feliz has had plenty of success in the major leagues before with the Rangers, so it’s not a far cry to say he has a chance to contribute for the Washington Nationals. That’s exactly why Mike Rizzo should at least investigate the possibility while he’s still out there.