Closers are notoriously difficult to predict in both the minor leagues and the NCAA. For one reason or another, neither level adequately prepares relief prospects for the rigors and/or pressure of high-leverage situations at the major league level.
Still, occasionally a club will take a chance on an elite college closer with an early-round pick. The most recent successful college closers were Addison Reed (San Diego State) and before him Huston Street (Texas). Street set the bar. A three-time all-American, he was an elite college closer whose performance set records (most saves), and earned him a series Most Outstanding Player award. There is a credible argument that he was the best college reliever ever, which is why he was selected in the first round in 2004 by the Oakland Athletics. He was their closer in 2005 and retired in 2017 with 324 career saves.
This is very rare. College closers tend to not have the stuff to make it to the big leagues (think Drew Storen). Or they do, but their arms can’t handle the physical demands of pitching three times a week and up to 70 IP in a season. College closers pitch half as many innings, so they break down with more use (think brothers Nick Burdi and Zack Burdi). It is much easier to get a “tweener” NCAA pitcher who doesn’t have the repertoire to start but has one or two plus to plus-plus pitches and convert them into closers (think Edwin Diaz).
So why do clubs do it? Because if you can find a college closer and convert him to an MLB closer, it can be a quick way to revamp your bullpen, since they can be in the majors within a few months of being drafted. Closers do get picked in drafts a lot, but rarely are they picked in the first three rounds. When one does get picked that high, it makes sense to follow their development.
Enter Durbin Feltman of the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs (Boston Red Sox organization). It’s surprising Feltman hasn’t received more attention. Whenever the Red Sox have a decent pitching prospect, the world knows about him (think Darwinzon Hernandez). Feltman is certainly decent. A three-year closer at Texas Christian University (TCU), he was selected in the third round by the Red Sox after posting the following numbers:
Feltman dominated the backend of games in a premier conference (Big-12), so much so that his numbers rival the closers I mentioned earlier (Street/Reed). He has the kind of college career that, if he performs well in the minors, justifies a fast-track to the majors, especially for a franchise expecting to compete this year.
Since being drafted in 2018, Feltman has done nothing but show he is ready to keep being promoted:
He is making the adjustment to Double-A in stride, posting a moderate ERA and K-rate. His walk rate has risen dramatically compared to the rest of his amateur and professional career, but that is nothing to worry about yet given the very small sample size.
His recipe for success is similar to many current relievers, high velocity and a nasty slider. Feltman likely has the best combination of those two pitches in the last two drafts. He’s got an unorthodox delivery with some extra motion in both the windup and arm action which could lead to an inability to repeat mechanics, but he sits at 97 mph with the fastball. Combined with the angle of his release from his over-the-top delivery and the added deception, it’s a plus-plus pitch. His slider, comes in at a high-80s speed and has significant drop to it, offering great tunneling potential with the fastball.
Feltman already has the skillset to get outs in the majors. His velocity, intensity, and delivery make him a perfect candidate to close soon. Hopefully, he spends the rest of 2019 in either Double-A or Triple-A working on his command and how to best use his arsenal to miss bats.
There is a possibility that Sox GM Dave Dombrowski will bring him up at the end of the year, especially if he starts to really dominate the higher levels. The Red Sox bullpen is in trouble and there really isn’t anyone safe from being cut/traded/demoted. I’m not recommending that Feltman is stashed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was given a shot at the closer role next spring.
Travis, need advice. Loaded up of pitching in dynasty league. Walker, Whitley, Luzardo, Flaherty, Urias, Paddock etc. Bats are ok. Guy offered me Kris Bryant for Urias and Whit Merryfield. Thoughts? Thanks.
I have to believe that Bryant’s power outage is because of his shoulder injury. If that is the case, he’s a top-20 asset for the next few years. I say do the deal.
This might be helpful:
Drew Storen is a really bad example of a reliever without the stuff to make it to the MLB, ya know with his 99 career MLB saves and 3.45 career ERA