Four years ago
Four years ago
Now here they are, the 22-year-old Wonder Boy and the 21-year-old Phenom with the 101-mph fastball. The crown jewels of the top minor league system in baseball, Holland and Feliz are two of the most important players in the AL West and the AL wild-card race. Not only are they here to help carry the Texas Rangers to their first postseason appearance since 1999, but they are also here to change the identity of a pitching-starved franchise. The baby-faced fireballers represent a promising future and a new direction for the Rangers, a franchise long built around pumped-up sluggers.
"We haven't signed a major league free agent in one and a half years," says Rangers GM
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Has there been a rise more improbable than Holland's? Since July 30, the day before the non-waiver trade deadline, he has been Texas' best pitcher, going 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA, including a dazzling complete game shutout over the Angels on Aug. 9. With a fastball that touches the high 90s and an above-average changeup that flutters over the plate in the low 80s, Holland is one of the most promising young starters in the game. But at Wallace State he could barely touch the mid 80s with his
In the 2006 draft the Rangers took a flier on Holland, signing him for $200,000 as a draft-and-follow. In 2008, his first full season in the Rangers system, he went from throwing an 89-92 mph fastball that suddenly, at midseason, began touching 97, 98 on the radar gun.
Says Holland, "The joke around here was, 'Oh, he's on HGH.'" He adds, "But I just credit it all to my trainers. They helped with my workouts. It was about gaining weight. [That year] I put on 15, 20 pounds, and that made all the difference in the world."
That fastball is now a plus-plus pitch for the left-hander, who entered the season ranked second in the Rangers system by
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The first time Feliz hit 100 on the radar gun was three years ago in rookie ball. A year earlier he had been signed by the Braves for $100,000 out of the Dominican Republic. Feliz came out of nowhere to dominate in his rookie ball season, as he K'd 42 in 29 innings in the Gulf Coast League. The morning after one of his starts that summer, his roommate casually asked, "You know you hit 100 on the radar gun?" Feliz was stunned. "I didn't think that was possible," he says through his interpreter, reliever
Now Feliz is routinely hitting triple digits on the radar gun. He had this year's most remarkable debut on Aug. 3 in Oakland, when he became the first pitcher since 1969 to strike out the first four batters he faced. He hit 100 mph four times, including 101 on his final pitch. Feliz will join Holland in the Rangers rotation in 2010, but until then he's entrenched in the bullpen, where he is poised to become this year's
"I felt pressure in my first game I pitched in Oakland," he says. "But after that first pitch, there was no more pressure."
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The Rangers are home to the best young talent in baseball -- now starring in Arlington are Holland, Feliz, shortstop and Rookie of the Year candidate
The Baby Rangers have work yet to do in 2009. If Texas' fearless pitching phenoms can continue to bring it, then the Dallas faithful will have more to root for in October than the Cowboys. "I would have been happy to have played the whole season in the minors," says Holland. "To be here, in the middle of a playoff race, it's just amazing."