by Ben Elsner
With the 100th pick in 2018 MLB Draft, the Boston Red Sox drafted Durbin Feltman, relief pitcher out of Texas Christian University (TCU). Feltman, who is from Oak Ridge Texas, played his high school ball primarily as a catcher. He did not begin to pitch until he went into his senior year of high school. With no team wanting him out of high school, Feltman enrolled in the prestigious baseball school, TCU. TCU has developed the likes of former Cy Young award winner and World Series champ, Jake Arrieta, of the Philadelphia Phillies, as well as former All-star Matt Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals. Evidently, TCU is no stranger to developing young players into stars in the MLB and Feltman is on pace to become the next.
Coming out of high school, Feltman didn’t get the looks he thought he deserved. He has an extremely lively fastball with a good array of breaking pitches. But he did not perfect these pitches until the 2016 TCU season. Feltman was 19 during the season and with the build he has, being a 6-foot 205-pound righty, was the mold of a bullpen piece and TCU knew this right away. During the 2016 season, according to soxprospect.com, Feltman pitched 34.2 innings ending with an astounding 1.56 era and 49 strikeouts. Of those 27 games he pitched in, 9 were games in which he recorded a save. The most important development for Feltman in 2016 wasn’t his miraculous ERA or his mind-blowing K/9, it was his ability to develop his pitches and throw them for strikes.
As for his age 21 season, Feltman was the definition of lights out, according to soxprospects.com, he pitched in 24 innings with a 0.74 ERA and 43 strikeouts. What most impressed the major league scout was his K/9 and his WHIP. Feltman’s K/9 innings was an insane 15.90. In those 24 innings pitched he only allowed 6 walks and 12 hits, which combined for a WHIP of 0.74.
At the major league level, a starting pitcher usually has anywhere from 3-5 pitches that they are confident throwing and are always working on perfecting and learning more pitches. But as a bullpen piece one type of pitcher is highly pursued. In this age of the MLB, pitchers who throw high 90’s to early 100’s are the most sought after. Take Joe Kelly for example, Kelly has a lively fastball that can reach 100 mph at times with good movement. But this isn’t enough for Kelly, he needs a secondary pitch that can keep the batters guessing. Kelly has two breaking pitches he polishes off batters with. His signature knuckle curve has crazy movement that will make even the best of batters look silly. The bite on this curve is next level, and this makes for a good bullpen pitcher. Likewise, Kelly, being a former starting pitcher has more pitches to his repertoire then most relief pitchers. What makes Kelly extremely special is his ability to change speeds and remain from the same arm slot. Whether he is throwing his slider, which has exceptional depth, his knuckle curve or his four seamer, they all come from the same arm slot, which keeps the batter guessing and doesn’t tip your pitches.
As you see from Feltman here, he has the ability to repeat his motion consistently whether he is throwing a fastball or an off-speed pitch. This is usually tougher for pitchers that come from such a high arm slot, like Feltman does.
According to FanGraphs.com…
Based on these rankings from Fangraphs, Feltman has far above average grade on his fastball, which ranges from 96-98 mph. Feltman has even been seen to top out easily at 99 mph. For Durbin, it isn’t the speed of his fastball, it’s how repetitive his motion is and how much life his fastball has when it explodes out of his hand. Most importantly, it has late break, meaning that when the ball comes out of his hands it looks to be a normal fastball but as it approaches the plate, it has a quick, sharp cut. Feltman has shown great control over his fastball through his three years at TCU, walking only 32 batters in 84 innings pitched at the collegiate level. As for his slider, according to soxprospect.com, it ranges from 84-86 mph. Along with that 10+ mph drop from fastball to breaking pitch, it brings along a hard bite towards the bottom of the plate, and, most impressively for Feltman, is his ability to throw it for a strike. He must work harder on his ability to use the slider for swing and misses at the major league level, but the ability to control the off-speed pitch shows potential for a plus slider and the ability to miss bats. Steve Perrault of Bleacher Report and the Section 10 podcast says, he “can hit 99 MPH with relative ease and then ruin hitters with his slider. An MLB-ready combination.” The main criticism for Feltman as of now, and why he wasn’t on the active roster for September call-ups is his lack of a third pitch. Bullpen pitchers need that third pitch to keep the batters off balance even more. Feltman hasn’t show a third pitch and when he has, he has shown a poor ability to spin the ball for his curveball, which he rarely features, as well as his changeup. For Feltman, if the Sox project him as a closer, the addition of a third pitch isn’t necessary, but it would be for other multi-inning relievers.
What translates well for Feltman and his potential with the Red Sox is his ability to locate as well as being major league ready. The downside looking at Feltman is that he is mostly developed. His body type is not going to change, his fastball is as good as it gets as well as his slider having the ability to be a plus pitch. There is not much more room for development besides perfecting his slider and working on a consistent swing-and-miss third pitch. As for Feltman being on the big-league roster next year, Steve Perrault said, “Hard to tell right now considering he had a chance to be a September call-up (last year), it’s not shocking to think he could make it on the big-league roster by Opening Day”.
When asked about the upcoming season and what his main focus for the offseason will be, Feltman says “My main focus is to treat it like all the other off seasons…I’m trying to work as hard as I did to get me in this position…why try to change anything or do something different?” Feltman explains that this offseason he will do what he does every year and focus on what got him to this point. “Be the best pitcher I possibly can… and learn from past seasons.”
I project Feltman as a great bullpen arm for the Sox in the upcoming years. As for a comparison, Feltman reminds of former Astros and Mets closer, Billy Wagner, if he were a righty, in his more over the top motion out of the bullpen and having “similar stuff and velocity” as Perrault noted. Feltman said “I model my game after a combination of two pitchers, Kimbrel and Cody Allen. I try to throw up in the zone like Kimbrel and I’m also around his size, so I look at that as a similarity. As for Allen, I try to throw off breaking pitch like he does.”
With the addition of a third pitch to his repertoire, I feel as though he would be used greatly in the set-up man role with a chance at the closer role, depending on what happens in free agency. The Sox have the potential to lose, Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly and Nathan Eovaldi. “Would be huge for Feltman to be ready for next season with more questions than ever in the Sox bullpen. I’d be surprised if Kimbrel is back after his tough October…” per Perrault. Some might say Feltman has the ability to pitch in big time situations, but nothing can compare to pitching in front of a Sox crowd at Fenway Park. He will need to keep his composure and carry over his success from TCU. With these three hugely important pieces of the pitching staff available for free agency, the Sox could use a reliable bullpen piece for next year: enter Durbin Feltman.