Neftali Feliz made his spring training debut yesterday as a starter, throwing two scoreless innings against the Indians, and afterward manager Ron Washington told T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com that the Rangers “are very committed to giving him the opportunity” to join the rotation.
Feliz was primarily a starter in the minors, establishing himself as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but shifted to relief at Triple-A in preparation for a mid-2009 call-up to the majors and has been in the Rangers’ bullpen ever since.
He won Rookie of the Year honors last season by saving 40 games with a 2.73 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 69 innings, but the Rangers are smartly trying to determine if he can make a big impact in a 200-inning role before locking the 23-year-old into a 70-inning role for the rest of his career, particularly after Washington’s rigid closer usage left Feliz without much of an impact during their run to the World Series.
Feliz struggled with his command yesterday and will have to re-adjust to relying on his off-speed pitches after throwing 83 percent fastballs as a reliever last season, but just two years ago Baseball America named him the 10th-best prospect in baseball as a starter. Washington noted that the attempted transition “is going to be a work in progress,” but the Rangers are doing the right thing by giving Feliz an opportunity to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. After all, he can always move back to the bullpen.
According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa declined to attend the team’s annual Winterfest because of his dissatisfaction with management following their trade for outfielder Adam Eaton.
A source told Castillo that Espinosa’s unhappiness stemmed from a belief that the acquisition would jeopardize his starting role in 2017. With Eaton in center field, Trea Turner will likely return to his post at shortstop, leaving Espinosa out in the cold — or, as the case may be, on the bench. The move shouldn’t come as a big surprise to Espinosa, however, as Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke to the possibility of trading the infielder or reassigning him to a utility role back in early November.
Offensively, the 29-year-old had a down year in 2016, slashing just .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs in 601 PA. Defensively, he still profiles among the top shortstops in the National League, with eight DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 8.3 Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) in his seventh year with the club.
Espinosa will reach free agency after the 2017 season.
The Red Sox might be trying to move the wrong pitcher, according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Cafardo revealed that while the Sox have been trying to market right-hander Clay Buchholz, more teams would be interested in trades involving southpaw Drew Pomeranz.
The club appears reluctant to deal Pomeranz, especially because his price tag comes in at a cool $4.7 million to Buchholz’s $13.5 million in 2017. Those who have already expressed interest in the veteran hurlers, including the Twins, Mariners and Royals, also seem put off by Buchholz’s salary requirements as he enters his 32nd year.
Health could be another factor preventing teams from jumping to make trade offers, as Cafardo quotes an AL executive who believes the “medicals on both Pomeranz and Buchholz probably aren’t that great.” Neither pitcher suffered any major injuries during the 2016 season, though Pomeranz missed just over a week of play due to forearm soreness.
Pomeranz outperformed his fellow starter in 2016, pitching to a 3.32 ERA and career-best 9.8 K/9 through 170 2/3 innings with the Padres and Red Sox. He got off to an exceptionally strong start in San Diego, where his ERA dropped to 2.47 through the first half of the year before the Padres dealt him to Boston for minor league right-hander Anderson Espinoza. Buchholz, on the other hand, struggled with a 4.78 ERA and saw a decline in both his BB/9 and K/9 rates as he worked out a career-low 1.69 K/BB through 139 1/3 innings with the Sox.