The reigning AL Rookie of the Year saved 40 games last season. Neftali Feliz forced early drafters to sit up and take notice on Thursday. Feliz started Thursday’s game against the Indians and pitched two scoreless innings (36 pitches). He struggled with his control in the first inning, but eventually pitched out of a jam (a walk and a hit batter).

His fastball reportedly hit consistently in the low 90s and topped out at 97 mph. Most importantly, Feliz was low in the zone when he missed. That’s good news when considering his Arlington home.

Feliz will have multiple opportunities to pitch from the rotation before Nolan Ryan and Ron Washington make the decision of whether he’ll stay in the rotation or return to the closer role. The 22-year old hurler stated that he’ll do whatever is asked of him by the team when asked about his preferred role after the game. Management wants more. Ryan wants to see the desire and certainty from Feliz that the team saw when former closer C.J. Wilson asked to shift out the bullpen. Wilson won 15 games for the Rangers in 2010.

For fantasy purposes, there’s more at play. Certainly, Feliz has the strikeout punch to become an instant hero, provided that he moves past his early-spring control issues. The offense will provide ample support to allow him to pile up wins.

If he moves into the rotation, then Darren Oliver, who struck out four batters per walk issued in 2010 and pitched to a 2.65 ERA, would likely be first in line for save opportunities. Veteran reliever Arthur Rhodes is also onboard for the 2011 campaign.

For now, continue drafting Feliz as a top-flight closer. I chatted briefly with Nolan Ryan following the deal that sent Frank Francisco to Toronto and he was non-committal about the back-end of the rotation and Feliz’s role (and spoke of the potential contributions to be made by Dave Bush and former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb).

It’s one of the positional issues we’ll be monitoring throughout the month of March. Fire up the carousel!