Durbin Feltman was not the biggest guy picked in this year’s MLB Draft. In fact, listed at 5-foot-11, he was one of the shortest pitchers drafted when he went 100th overall to the Red Sox on June 5. He also wasn’t the most experienced arm in this year’s class — growing up a catcher before becoming a full-time pitcher the summer before his senior year in high school. Feltman hasn’t always had the nastiest stuff either, with his fastball reportedly topping out at 89 mph before he stepped foot on the TCU campus three years ago. Regardless, many people (including Feltman himself) expect the hard-throwing right-handed reliever to be one of the first from this year’s draft class to make it to the majors.
TCU pitching coach Kirk Saarloos is one of those people who expects Feltman’s ascent to Fenway to be quick. Saarloos told the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier recently that he “could see him helping out the Red Sox in the bullpen this year, for sure,” and that “his stuff will definitely play in the big leagues.” The “stuff” Saarloos mentioned is a fastball that now hovers between 96 and 99 mph, according to Baseball America — a 10-mph improvement from high school — and a wipeout slider that’s already earning plus grades from Perfect Game USA. Feltman’s arsenal also features a seldom-used changeup, but it’s clear that the fastball-slider combo is his bread and butter. This season, opponents hit just .143 off him and he struck out 46% of the batters he faced as TCU’s primary option at closer.
The gigantic leap he made from high school to college is one of the more intriguing things about Feltman. Clocked at 89 mph in October 2013, per Perfect Game USA, he’s now flirting with triple digits on the radar gun. He humbly credits that to his time at TCU and the strength he has added, but even he said he’s not quite sure how he managed to do it. Adding that much velocity over a five-year span is pretty remarkable, but it can’t be done by simply going to the weight room to pick things up and put them down. It’s clear that Feltman has the drive to make himself better, which will certainly bode well when he begins his professional career and is allowed to focus each day specifically on making himself a more effective relief pitcher.
If you asked his teammates at TCU, they would tell you he was the best closer in the country, even when he was underperforming. And they’d be correct because that’s pretty much what he has been for the better part of the last two years. He was rated the second best reliever in the 2018 draft behind only California’s Tanner Dodson, a two-way prospect drafted No. 71 overall by the Tampa Bay Rays. Feltman was second in the nation in saves as a sophomore with 17 and was virtually unhittable for most of his junior season. In the 18 games he appeared in this year, he allowed just two earned runs on 12 hits, finishing the campaign with a 0.74 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and just six walks, which earned him third-team All-American honors. He didn’t allow an earned run until his 14th appearance of the season and held his opponents hitless in nine of his 18 outings. He pitched an immaculate inning on April 10 — striking out three UT Arlington batters on nine pitches in the top of the ninth to earn the save. He finished with six saves this season and 32 for his career.
Feltman did miss about a month of the season with blister issues, according to Frogs O’ War, which actually may prove to be good news for the Red Sox. He pitched a career-low 24.0 innings this season and didn’t appear in a game from April 27 until May 24. He made two appearances upon his return and tossed a total of 51 pitches over the final month of his junior campaign. A well-rested power reliever like Feltman would certainly contribute to a team that seems destined for a postseason run — especially with the recent season-ending surgery for Carson Smith and still a handful of unknowns ahead for Tyler Thornburg.
You’d have to think Feltman will have a few players to turn to if he runs into trouble, too. Fellow TCU product Brandon Finnegan, now with the Cincinnati Reds, knows a thing or two about what Feltman is going through right now. Finnegan went directly from TCU and the College World Series to the minor leagues, where he pitched just 27.0 total innings before getting called up by the Kansas City Royals in 2014 — the same year he was drafted 17th overall. He became the first pitcher in MLB history to compete in both the College and MLB World Series in the same season. Finnegan was a starter at TCU, though, and pitched 105.2 innings over 17 starts there before he made the jump to professional baseball. Altogether, Finnegan pitched 139.2 innings throughout 2014 but he was used solely as a reliever by the Royals that year.
TCU has given me more than I could ever dream of. I cannot thank the coaches, trainers, support staff and teammates enough for helping me in every way imaginable. I’ve made lifelong friends and unforgettable memories but now I’m on to the next chapter with the Red Sox. pic.twitter.com/fE2Th1UsHR— Durbin Feltman (@dfeltman12) June 13, 2018
Within the Red Sox clubhouse, Feltman won’t have to look too far for advice. Chris Sale experienced a very similar ascent to the majors, as pointed out by WEEI’s Rob Bradford earlier this week. If Sale is willing to teach a random 24-year-old how he throws his slider, you’d have to think he’d be willing to give Feltman a little advice if needed. The 29-year-old ace was drafted by the White Sox in the first round of the 2010 draft. He pitched a total of 10.1 innings in the minor leagues before being called up later that year by the White Sox. Since then, he’s gone back to the minors one time for a four-inning rehab start in 2014.
“You don’t see it a whole lot, and if it doesn’t work out it can blow up in your face,” Sale told WEEI.com in regards to players making such a quick jump from college to the majors. Since 2010, nearly 440 pitchers have been picked in the first three rounds of the amateur draft, yet Sale and Finnegan were the only two who pitched in the majors the year they were drafted.
I’m all about speed and doing things well, but quickly. That’s probably one of the most frustrating things I deal with as a baseball fan. There’s nothing quick about the prospect process. It’s hard to get excited about the MLB Draft when you won’t see most of those guys play in the majors for like four years. The possibility of seeing a 21-year-old pitch in the majors the same year he’s drafted is something I welcome with open arms and you should too.