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June 1, 2015

The Call-Up

Michael Feliz

by Wilson Karaman

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The Situation: With Scott Feldman hitting the shelf with a torn meniscus, the Astros will turn his roster spot over to the 21-year-old Feliz. Just ten days ago, Feliz was in the High-A Lancaster rotation, and after a one-game cameo as a Double-A tandem starter, he’ll head to the Houston bullpen, at least until Brett Oberholtzer’s expected activation for a start on Monday.

Background: As a 16 year-old out of the Dominican Republic, Feliz was originally poised to ink an $800,000 deal with Oakland in early spring of 2010, but the agreement fell through when his physical revealed a positive test for an undisclosed banned substance. The Astros swooped in a couple months later and signed the right-hander for half of the original bonus amount. After serving a 50-game suspension he logged a dozen DSL innings before making his stateside debut with 50 Gulf Coast League innings in 2011. He held his own with a whiff an inning in 64 rookie-ball frames the following year, before a dominating stint in the New York-Penn League in 2013. He finally made the leap to full-season ball last year, calling the Midwest League home for the entirety of 2014, before heading to the Antelope Valley for a date with the winds of Lancaster this spring.

Scouting Report: Feliz is an imposing figure on the mound, standing every bit his listed 6’4” and 225 pounds, with a thick backside, high waist, and broad shoulders. It’s very much a frame to dream on, and he utilizes his size well in a rhythmic and relatively balanced delivery. The step-back and rock is pronounced into an aggressive turn and leg-kick that reaches his letters. He brings his hands high over his head, and there’s some inconsistency in the timing of his hand-break that, coupled with a longish arm action, can lead to some issues maintaining his arm slot through multiple innings.

The fastball can play as a 70 pitch in relief. He sat comfortably in the mid-90’s at Lancaster, popping 97’s and the occasional 98 as he went. It’s an explosive pitch with good plane, and he can generate in-zone whiffs, despite his loose command. The pitch keeps its “rise” but doesn’t have much horizontal movement to it, and it’ll make for an interesting referendum on his command if and when he gets a shot in the big league rotation and has to face hitters multiple times. In short stints there’s enough giddy up for him to survive and possibly thrive off the gas.

His slider is a solid companion piece that has potential to play up to an above average or better offering at the higher end of its 82-85 MPH velocity band. His release of the pitch was inconsistent in my look this spring, with the better-executed versions featuring hard vertical break off his fastball plane but others taking a rounder shape and grabbing too much of the zone.

It’s likely a non-factor for his present promotion to the bullpen, but the few changeups I saw showed at least some intrigue as an underdeveloped third piece of the puzzle. It’s a hard pitch in the upper-80’s that lacks even average separation, but it showed some drop and Feliz commanded it reasonably well down in the zone. I’m not sure the actualized version ever gets beyond a 45, but the baseline feel is encouraging.

While Feliz shows an ability to attack the zone with decent control, the command is a work in progress. In addition to the timing issues in getting to his release there’s some cross-body to his motion, where he’ll drop anchor on his plant foot a couple inches off-center to the third-base side. The additional length limits his consistency getting to the glove side, and there’s danger zone potential to lose pitches up and out over the plate.

Immediate Big League Future: Presumably limited to situational work against right-handed hitters in a short-relief role this weekend, Feliz’s potent fastball-slider combination has the potential to miss big league bats and get outs. It’s an aggressive promotion for Feliz, but the raw stuff should be ready for prime time, if enough command makes the trip to Houston with him.

Fantasy Impact: The short answer here is likely not much, at least for right now. Regardless of performance, it appears unlikely that Feliz is going to be with the parent club for more than this weekend’s series, and barring some seriously #weirdbaseball he’ll be limited to the lowest of low-leverage situations. If you play in a deep head-to-head league and find yourself in need of whiffs and Holds at the end of your matchup period he’s a justifiable bullpen stream for the next couple of days, but outside of that particular kind of format and situation there’s not much reason for investment at this time.

Longer term, Feliz is very much a name to keep on your speculative radar for the second half of the season. The organization is demonstrating a tremendous amount of confidence in the young fireballer with this cameo opportunity, and if he acquits himself well he has the kind of stuff that can rapidly ascend a bullpen pecking order come September.

In keeper leagues that roster triple-digit prospects, Feliz’s survival of Lancaster has sent his stock up to where he should be firmly in consideration for waiver claims and/or mid-season drafts. The possibility (if not probability) of a bullpen future is high enough to where he shouldn’t be viewed as an impact asset. He’ll have the opportunity to return value in short order, however, and the stuff is of closer quality, should that bullpen transition take place. If his command and third pitch come around to where he finds himself in a major league rotation, he’ll have the profile of a potential top-60 starter in his prime with strong strikeout potential.

Wilson Karaman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Wilson's other articles. You can contact Wilson by clicking here

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