SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There's a kid out here who throws 100 mph, a guy who was a starting pitcher in the minor leagues but burst onto the big league scene as a reliever, a young pitcher with a promising but still undetermined future.
And there's a New York-bred general manager who, in this case, is plenty happy that this pending decision is being made a long way from home.
"This would be a tabloid special," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels admitted the other day. "The Feliz Rules."
There are no Feliz Rules, no Nefi Rules, nothing that would suggest that the Rangers' Neftali Feliz decision is anything like the Yankees' Joba Chamberlain decision -- except for the simple fact that they're both hugely talented pitchers who might be the next Pedro Martinez ... or the next Mariano Rivera.
For now, the Rangers don't seem to be stressing about The Big Nefi Decision, in part because there's still quite a bit of time before they need to make it, in part because they don't feel the need to make a permanent decision this spring, and in part because this is Texas and not New York.
"Let's let the kid establish himself as a major leaguer," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "And take it from there. You might find your niche."
The Rangers are trying to find a niche for at least a couple of pitchers this spring, because left-handed reliever C.J. Wilson is also getting a Feliz-like tryout as a starter. But there's something more compelling about the Feliz decision, something about a 21-year-old throwing 100 mph.
"He's got phenomenal potential," Wilson said. "It's undeniable. As a hitter, I couldn't imagine facing him. And the great thing is, he doesn't throw the ball and look back at the radar gun. He throws the ball, and everyone else looks back at the radar gun."
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Feliz, by all accounts, has a great presence on the mound and a great attitude about pitching. He says he'd prefer to start, but he also says he'll willingly do whatever the Rangers want.
"I think I'll be a better starter than a reliever in the long run," Feliz said through an interpreter. "I'm confident, and I feel like I could do better as a starter."
In the long run, the Rangers seem to agree with him. Daniels and manager Ron Washington both said they expect Feliz to become a starter at some point in his career. Washington seemed to hedge a bit when it was suggested that Feliz might be like Rivera, but he also said: "His future, we feel, is in the starting rotation."
The Yankees, of course, long said many of the same things about Chamberlain, for many of the same reasons. Feliz has three pitches, he seems to keep his velocity deep into his starts, he has a repeatable delivery and he's a good athlete.
Besides, as Daniels said, "he has never failed as a starter."
But none of that makes this spring's decision automatic. Daniels, Washington and Maddux all agree that where Feliz lands on opening day will have more to do with what the Rangers need than with what helps Feliz most long-term.
Coming off 87 wins in 2009, the Rangers believe they have a chance to win now, and if putting Feliz in the bullpen gives them the best chance, that's likely where he'll pitch.
The Rangers say that even if Feliz pitches out of the bullpen in 2010, they won't have a problem moving him into the rotation a year from now. They point to other pitchers who have made the bullpen-to-rotation move (Adam Wainwright, Derek Lowe, Kenny Rogers), and also point out that Feliz has already had a 127-inning season in the minor leagues.
They say that by stretching him out this spring, they'll help build his arm strength, even if he moves back to the bullpen before the end of the spring.
Sleeper ... Julio Borbon: Borbon has some incredible potential in his first full season, if he wins the starting center fielder's job and runs with it -- quite literally. We project 40 steals, but after stealing 19 with just 157 at-bats, we might have to upgrade that total once he officially wins the starting job and is named the leadoff man.
Bust ... Michael Young: Age 33 tends to be the end of a player's prime. Young figures to begin to decline. We already saw a sign of that last year, as his at-bats fell below 600 for the first time since his first full season in 2002.
Breakout ... Chris Davis: Even in his disappointing second season, Davis showed marked improvement in the second half, hitting .308 with six homers, 26 RBI and 17 runs in just 133 at-bats. Davis is a nice late-round pick-up at a very deep first base position.
-- Eric Mack
Top Rangers Prospects (2010 destination)
1. Neftali Feliz, SP, Majors
2. Justin Smoak, 1B, Triple-A
3. Martin Perez, SP, Double-A
4. Kasey Kiker, SP, Triple-A
5. Tanner Scheppers, SP, Double-A
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Either way, the Rangers are looking forward to watching Feliz pitch for a full big league season. It's hard to get out of their minds what they saw last year, when Feliz came to the majors in August and struck out 16 of the first 26 batters he faced.
"He was throwing 100-102 [mph] that first night in Oakland," teammate Matt Harrison said. "It was pretty amazing to watch."
Harrison came to the Rangers from the Braves in the same July 2007 Mark Teixeira trade that also included shortstop Elvis Andrus and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He never saw Feliz pitch in the Braves system, but remembered hearing about a 17-year-old kid who was already lighting up radar guns in triple digits.
Feliz said that 2006 season was the first time he remembers anyone telling him he'd thrown 100 mph. He pitched in the rookie Gulf Coast League that summer, making five starts and pitching out of the bullpen six times.
Four years later, he still could be a starter or a reliever. If he played in New York, you'd be hearing about this debate every day.
"They'd be all over him," Harrison said.
In Texas, they're happy to talk about him, but not anxious to get drawn into any kind of controversy.
Nothing against Feldman, who had an impressive 17-win season, but he's not 21 years old and he doesn't throw 100 mph.
And no one, not even jokingly, has ever suggested that there should be any Feldman Rules.