Right-hander Durbin Feltman entered the 2019 season as the Red Sox’ No. 11 prospect according to Baseball America.
Fresh off an inaugural 2018 campaign in which he split time between short-season Lowell, Low-A Greenville, and High-A Salem and posted a miniscule 1.93 ERA over 22 total appearances, the third-round draft pick out of Texas Christian University was facing rather lofty expectations as he embarked on his first full professional season.
Spending the entirety of the 2019 season with Double-A Portland, Feltman struggled to the tune of a 5.26 ERA and 5.02 FIP over 43 outings and 51 1/3 innings of work.
This summer, after the 2020 minor-league season had already been cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Red Sox decided against including Feltman in its 60-man player pool while a number of the organization’s top pitching prospects, such as Tanner Houck, Bryan Mata, and Jay Groome were.
These prospects spent their summers working out and playing in intrasquad games at the Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket. Prospects such as Feltman, meanwhile, remained at their respective homes.
The 23-year-old recently spoke with BloggingtheRedSox.com about this experience.
“I was frustrated, upset,” Feltman said of not being included in the 60-man pool. “Just not being invited [after] thinking I was going to go — I was frustrated the whole time because I figured ‘Hey, I’m going to use this time the best I can.’ I’m not going to get time like this again, barring another pandemic, to be able to do whatever I want and work on things. So, I used it the best I could and figured out some stuff. I feel like I figured out a lot.”
Having seemingly turned a corner on his own time, Feltman went into the Red Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers and thoroughly impressed thanks to some added motivation.
“I came in there with a chip on my shoulder and was like ‘Hey, this is what you missed out on at the alternate site,'” he added. “Hopefully I showed enough, I felt like I did. And I’m carrying that into 2021 as well.”
While he had to wait a little bit to report to fall instructs in early October, Feltman was able to hone his craft while at home as opposed to the alternate training this summer. The Red Sox even gave him some things to work on.
“I was in a sticky situation,” said Feltman. “They were taking MLB depth and they didn’t see me as MLB depth yet because I’m obviously really young. They gave us stuff to work on, stuff I had been working on — having a repeatable delivery and just getting back to what I used to do in 2018. I feel like I’m closing in, and I’m not trying to revert back to , but I’m also trying to get better. So, I feel like I’m in a really good spot right now, going down there and working with them and then working on my own.”
An aspect the Red Sox would like to see Feltman improve upon, as he mentioned, was having a more repeatable delivery. The flame-throwing righty went into more depth with that.
“I worked a lot on making things easier — more repeatable and easier,” the Houston-area native said. “I got into the mindset of trying to create more with everything, just trying to create more, and that’s not what I needed to do. So now, it’s just being easy and letting it go. The velocity’s ticking back up, it’s not quite where I want it to be yet, but it’s getting back up there. The ball’s coming out better now just playing catch than it was in instructs and even during the summer.
“Just continuing to work and figuring out those little things,” Feltman continued. “Just making it smooth and basically just being an athlete on the mound instead of worrying about every little thing.”
One thing Feltman does have to worry about while on the mound is which pitch he is going to throw and where said pitch is going to end up. The former Horned Frog’s pitch arsenal currently consists of a fastball, a slider, and a curveball. He discussed how he can use each of those pitches to his advantage.
“Obviously I have my fastball,” Feltman stated. “It has a little bit of a cut to it sometimes when I throw it to the glove side, so I try to throw it up in the zone and then to my glove side. Then I have my slider. I’m finally getting back to how I throw my upper-80s power-slider and just getting a feel for that, being able to throw it in any count. And then, I switched back my grip to my old curveball, just a 12-6 to play off that high fastball or drop it in when I need a get-me-over strike to show them something else. I don’t throw any changeups or anything that moves arm-side, so just being able to show a change of speed from hard to power breaking ball and then flip in a low-80s curveball. It just puts that in the back of the mind that ‘Hey, you got to watch out for that, too.'”
Despite this sound strategy, there were instances last year in Portland where Feltman would regularly fall behind in counts, which in turn led to 13.9% walk rate. He attributed this to a tendency to nibble the corners of the strike zone after falling behind in counts, and is now aiming to be more aggressive in the strike zone moving forward.
“I feel like it was just a snowball effect of one thing led to another led to another led to another,” Feltman said. “I go up there and it’s cold, so my velo’s down a little bit, so I’m trying to create more. Obviously, I’m getting in hitter’s counts because I’m not commanding like I should and then you’re obviously going to have higher batting averages in hitter’s counts. So, I’m giving up hits here and there, so I’m like ‘Okay, they’re hitting me.’ Well, no, you’re doing it to yourself, getting in 3-0, 3-1 counts. That kind of led to ‘I’ve got to nibble here, nibble there.’ I can’t let him hit it early in the count and that’s just getting away from what I do.
“I’ve gone back to ‘Hey, get ahead early in the count, don’t try to nibble, just be aggressive in the strike zone. My stuff’s going to play in the strike zone,'” he added. “It’s amazing what happens, you get swings and misses left and right if you’re confident throwing it in the strike zone. That’s kind of the mentality I’ve gone back to: Get ahead early. You get ahead early, it’s a whole different ballgame. It makes it so much easier… The odds are in your favor if you’ve got two strikes.”
With this more aggressive approach in mind, Feltman is going to take what he learned from 2019 and work to throw more strikes earlier in counts in 2021.
“That’s going to help two things,” he said. “It’s going to help increase strikeouts, so your strikeout rate, and it’s also going to help decrease my walk rate. What I’m working on is being able to throw all three of my pitches for strikes — and not just strikes — quality strikes, and then just keeping that same mentality: Be aggressive early, be aggressive early. I feel like if I do that, everything will take care of itself.”
Feltman, who turns 24 in April, is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as Boston’s No. 28 prospect. The TCU alum, listed at 6-feet and 205 lbs., will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next December, but he has not thought about that too much and is more focused on getting to the big-leagues as soon as possible.
“Obviously, I don’t want to have to go through the Rule 5 Draft, because if you’ve been in the big-leagues you’re not getting Rule 5 drafted,” he said.
(Top photo of Feltman: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)