When it comes to Red Sox prospects, it’s hard to think of one who has intrigued me more in recent years than Durbin Feltman. I think it’s a combination of his success so far this year in college as well the minors along with the upcoming uncertainty looming for Boston’s bullpen. As we all know, Craig Kimbrel is going to be a free agent this offseason and could legitimately re-define the market for elite relievers. Joe Kelly is also heading toward the open market and has expressed interest in finding his way back into a major league rotation. (The key word there being “a” — because it’s highly unlikely he ends up back in Boston’s). Additionally, it’s impossible to know what lies ahead for guys like Carson Smith or Tyler Thornburg.
There’s really no better time for Feltman to break out than right now. He has had an encouraging start to his minor-league career, but I’ll be the first one to tell you to take these numbers with a grain of salt. Obviously I’m aware that he hasn’t exactly seen the cream of baseball’s crop in the New York-Penn League or the Carolina League — but I’m still planning to get inexplicably excited whenever I see him excel professionally and you are more than welcome to join me. In 14 appearances with three different Red Sox affiliates, Feltman has allowed just three runs (two of which were earned) on seven hits over 14.0 innings pitched. He has faced 54 batters and struck out 24 of them (or 44%!!!), while allowing just three walks (5.5%). He has a .137 batting average against and a WHIP of 0.714. Pretty good for a 21-year-old who was pitching in the Big 12 a couple months ago.
It is, of course, extremely rare for pitchers to go from college to the minors to the majors in one year. As I have mentioned in the past, Chris Sale is one of just two pitchers since 2010 who was drafted in the first three rounds and made it to the majors that same year. He tossed just 10.1 innings in the minors before being called up by the Chicago White Sox. Even his numbers don’t quite compare to what Feltman is doing so far this season. Sale faced 43 batters over 11 minor-league games, struck out 19 and allowed three earned runs on six hits with six walks and a .162 BAA. Granted, Sale spent most of his time in Triple-A, just one step shy of Chicago. I’m definitely not saying Feltman now is better than Sale was then. I just think it’s worth noting that the numbers to this point are comparable — possibly indicating Feltman’s readiness.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Dave Dombrowski failed to acquire a reliever at the trade deadline when many considered that to be one of Boston’s most pressing needs. Sure, he wants to feed us the “I like our bullpen” line over and over and over again but I don’t think that’s really why he chose not to pursue any of the major targets who changed uniforms a few weeks ago. I think Dombrowski wants Feltman in Boston this season nearly as much as I do, although he claims that’s not the case and that it hasn’t even been discussed yet. We know how much we can trust GM speak, though.
Time is of the essence when it comes to calling Feltman up. As pointed out by @BostonSportsInfo, players generally have to be added to the 40-man roster, the 60-day disabled list or the bereavement / family medical emergency list before August 31 in order to be eligible for the postseason roster. There are exceptions to this rule — Brandon Finnegan made the Royals 2014 roster despite not being called up until after September 1 — but for the most part you have to be up before September. I can’t imagine Feltman getting called up just for the hell of it, either. If he pitches in Boston this year, it’s because someone (other than me) thinks he can help this team win a World Series.
He may not be ready for this level and that’s okay. If he’s not, I’d rather find that out this season when the Sox have other guys to turn to as opposed to next season when the bullpen picture doesn’t look quite as clear. Next season, he has expectations tied to him from the start. This season, it would be a treat to see him pitch at the major league level and an even bigger one to see him succeed. Not that I expect Boston fans or the media to treat him any less unreasonable than they treat anyone else, but I think it would be much worse if he doesn’t make it to Boston this year and then struggles next year when he finally does get called up.