Neftali Feliz Antonio
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 3", Weight 190 lb.
Originally signed by scouts Julian Perez and Roberto Aquino for the Atlanta Braves in 2005, he began his pro career with the DSL Braves 1 that summer. He came stateside with the GCL Braves in 2006. Feliz was then one of the players included in the 2007 trade for first baseman Mark Teixeira. Already considered a top pitching prospect at the time, his reputation only bloomed with his solid performances over the next two seasons. In 2009, he was named co-MVP of the 2009 Futures Game.
Neftali Feliz became the Rangers' closer in 2010, taking over for Frank Francisco. He became the first rookie to record 40 saves in the major leagues, was named to the All-Star team and was a key to the Rangers reaching the World Series for the first time in franchise history. After the season, he was named the American League Rookie of the Year and was named to the 2010 Topps All-Star Rookie Team as a relief pitcher. He was the first player to be honored at that position, as in previous years there were only spots on the team for a right-handed and a left-handed pitcher.
After the season, there was speculation regarding Feliz's future role with the team. With the Rangers' failure to re-sign Cliff Lee for the 2011 season, there was speculation that Feliz would be a logical candidate to be groomed as a starter. During spring training, he said that he was more comfortable as a closer, then turned around a few days later to state that, after developing a new cut fastball, he felt he had the pitches to succeed in a starting role. The Rangers were also hesitating, being reticent to confirm Feliz's future role until the end of camp. On March 24th, the Rangers confirmed that Feliz would remain their closer in 2011, stating that, with a number of candidates available for the starting rotation, "the need is greater in the bullpen". Still, Feliz had pitched the second-most innings of any Rangers pitcher in spring training, and there were questions whether the two changes of usage in a short time were responsible for the shoulder inflammation that landed him on the disabled list on April 23rd. While the injury was not serious, Feliz told the media a week later that he had no intention of returning to a starting role: "I'm a closer now, and God willing I'll remain a closer the rest of my career." Feliz's rookie record for saves did not even last one year; on August 23rd, Craig Kimbrel of the Braves recorded his 40th save of the year to tie his mark, then surpassed it on August 31st, leaving Feliz in possession of the American League record. He finished the season with a record of 2-3, 2.74 and 32 saves in 64 games. However, he suffered a huge disappointment in the postseason when he failed to record the save that would have given the Rangers the World Championship. He came on to pitch the 9th inning of Game 6 on October 27th with the Rangers leading the St. Louis Cardinals, 7-5, but after striking out Ryan Theriot, gave up a double to Albert Pujols and walked Lance Berkman; he struck out Allen Craig for the second out, but with two strikes on David Freese, he surrendered a game-tying triple that sent the game into extra innings. The Rangers blew another two-run lead in the 10th, lost on Freese's homer in the 11th, and then lost Game 7 to fall agonizingly short of the final prize. Until that final breakdown, Neftali had been very good in the postseason, recording 6 saves while surrendering a single run, including saves in Games 2 and 5 of the World Series.
The Rangers did finally move Feliz to the starting rotation in 2012, after acquiring Joe Nathan from the Minnesota Twins to be the new closer. In his first career start on April 10th, Neftali gave up no runs on four hits in 7 innings against the Seattle Mariners, getting credit for Texas's 1-0 win. However, he was beset by injuries, making only 8 appearances, 7 of them starts, during the year. His record was a solid 3-1, 3.16 and he did pitch one complete game, but made his last appearance on May 18th. He attempted rehabilitation, but at the end of July, the Rangers announced that he would need to undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his season and precluding a return before the second half of 2013. He did pitch 6 times in relief in September of that year, allowing no runs in 4 2/3 innings after not allowing any runs in 10 2/3 innings in the minors. Still, the Rangers wanted him to continue working in the minor leagues to build back his strength and he did not make his return to the majors until July 4, 2014, when he relieved Yu Darvish in the 6th inning and pitched two shutout innings. He had pitched 24 times with the AAA Round Rock Express before his call-up, with a 1-1 record, 7 saves and a 3.14 ERA. The Rangers were planning to use him as a middle reliever at first, with Joakim Soria now being the team's closer and all thoughts of making him a starter having been banished. He put up a 1.99 ERA in 30 games, with 13 saves and a 2-1 record as one of a small number of positive performances in what was a very difficult season for the Rangers.
In 2015, however, he struggled with the Rangers, and was 1-2, 4.58 with 6 saves in 18 games when the Rangers designated him for assignment on July 3rd, after having spent the second half of May and all of June on the disabled list. He refused to be sent to the minors and as a result became a free agent on July 10th. On July 11th, he was signed by the Detroit Tigers.
- 2010 Topps All-Star Rookie Team
- 2010 AL Rookie of the Year Award
- AL All-Star (2010)
- 30 Saves Seasons: 2 (2010 & 2011)
- 40 Saves Seasons: 1 (2010)
|AL Rookie of the Year