Assessing some of Texas’ young pitchers


Texas Ranger pitchers Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison all reported to spring training with a chance to make the Texas starting rotation. One of them, perhaps maybe two depending on how Brandon Webb throws during the spring, will indeed make the rotation. Going into the season, Holland was expected to fall into the fourth spot in the rotation behind Tommy Hunter.

Barring an injury, or if Texas strongly feels he just isn’t ready, he’ll earn that spot which would add another lefty and some experience (Holland has made 31 career major league starts and pitched in relief in six postseason games in 2010) to the rotation.

Brandon Webb will be given a chance to earn the fifth spot and he could very well have it by the beginning of the season. But if he gets hurt or shows a lack of velocity after coming off shoulder surgery, that last spot in the rotation will come down to either Feliz or Harrison.

Feliz is the better pitcher- more velocity, better off-speed, and more big game experience- than Harrison but Harrison has more experience as a starter- 32 games started as opposed to 0 for Feliz- and Feliz was the anchor of an American League-winning bullpen last year.

All three pitchers have their pros and cons when it comes to fitting into the starting rotation so let’s break down each one:

Derek Holland

Some positives, when it comes to Holland, are obvious. He’s 6-2, left handed, and throws a fastball that stays consistently around 94 mph. And when you look even further, its just gets better. Going into 2009, Holland was touted even higher than Feliz. He came up in late April of that year and showed flashes of how he blazed through the Rangers’ farm system, striking out 10 and going 8 2/3 innings in a win over Seattle and throwing a complete game shutout against the Angels on the road.

But the defining trait of his rookie season was inconsistency.

He’d leave balls up in the zone and would finish the year having given up 26 home runs in 33 games with an ERA of 6.12 and an 8-13 record.

Injuries delayed his start in 2010 until mid-May and kept him out from June 1st through August 17th. When he returned he saw limited action but did get some invaluable experience pitching 11.1 innings in the post season. Hopefully, for his sake and the Rangers’, that experience will translate into success in 2011.

He’s only 24, but if he can’t pull it together this year, that will be three straight unsuccessful seasons at the big league level for one of the Rangers’ top minor league prospects.

Neftali Feliz

Feliz proved in 2010 not only could he be a closer at the big league level, but that he could be one of the best closers at the big league level. He anchored the bullpen of an American League champion team with 40 saves and a 2.73 ERA. And when Texas traded setup man Frank Francisco to Toronto for Mike Napoli, it looked as if Feliz would have be that anchor even more in 2011.

But the Ranger starting rotation needs some help.

Texas will bring Feliz out of the bullpen, at least temporarily, in an attempt to extend his workload and turn him back into a starter. That process has already begun and if Feliz keeps doing what he’s done so far- throw three different pitches for strikes- he’ll be tough to handle and should be a solid back of the end rotation starter for Texas. But then again, even if he does pitch well in a starter’s role in the spring, the Ranger front office will still have to wrestle with the idea of keeping him in what is now a depleted bullpen. Feliz was groomed as a starter in the minors, but has never made a start at the big league level. Throwing him into a situation where his workload will increase to nearly twice as much as he’s ever had might have negative effects. The worse case scenario for Texas in this situation would be making Feliz a starter and have him get injured or fatigued or simply not pitch well and miss out on having one of the premier closers in the game in their bullpen.

Matt Harrison

Harrison has to be the dark horse in the race for a spot in the Ranger rotation. He’s made more starts and has more wins than both Holland and Feliz. Granted, he’s 25, a year older than Holland and three years older than Feliz, and he’s been in the league one more year than both of them, but right now he would be the safest option to put in the rotation if Webb can’t earn a spot. He’s seen the majority of his big league success come in a starter’s role and he doesn’t offer much in the bullpen other than middle relief so Texas wouldn’t suffer as much in the bullpen like they would if they made Feliz a starter. Harrison has battled injuries the past two seasons but when he’s healthy, as he is now, he can be a reliable fifth starter.