At this point in the season most baseball fans are aware of the buzzy prospects. At the top of the list are Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and Jesus Montero, all in the big leagues and making significant contributions for the Nationals, Angels, and Mariners, respectively. Among those still in the minors, baseball aficionados will certainly have heard about the Orioles’ Dylan Bundy, the #4 overall selection in the 2011 MLB draft who has been nothing short of spectacular in his first professional season, and Arizona’s Trevor Bauer, the jewel in the crown of Diamondbacks pitching prospects who is one injury away from being in the Show. Many fans will have also heard names such as Profar, Myers, Rizzo, or Hamilton. Each of these players has excellent pedigree or has had a spectacular season, and in many cases both, for their respective clubs and has become something of a household name for those who follow baseball.
The Marlins’ Jose Fernandez is making a strong case to be included in the above list. Perhaps overshadowed by fellow Sally Leaguer Bundy early in the season (who has since been promoted, about 30 innings later than the Sally hitters would have liked), the young right-hander has dazzled in his first full professional season. He has pedigree: Fernandez was the 14th overall selection in the 2011 draft. And he has performance: after his latest gem, six scoreless innings with 8 Ks, Fernandez is 6-0 with a 1.50 ERA and .90 WHIP in 60 innings pitched. He has struck out 78 and walked only 15.
Fernandez, who doesn’t turn 20 until early June, has all the tools to be a future ace (this video does a great job of showcasing the young Marlin). According to scouting reports his best pitch is a mid- to upper-nineties fastball with natural tail, a true plus offering that could already play in the major leagues. He also throws a curve which flashes plus, an average change-up, and according to some reports, a slider. Scouts have extolled his mound presence–much more advanced than most pitchers his age–and noted a surprising athleticism for someone his size. Fernandez is big–6’3″, 215 lbs–and burly, leading to some speculation that his body type will eventually land him in the bullpen. I believe that to be nitpicking; plenty of very good major league pitchers (see: Colon, Bartolo or Sabathia, CC) have had successful careers despite not being the Platonic ideal of a starter. Nevertheless, Fernandez will need to be careful and make sure that he looks after his body. Provided he works hard on conditioning, his physique should not keep him from a major league rotation.
As with any young pitcher, Fernandez does have some red flags. Most worrying in this case is his delivery. Fernandez has a tendency to overthrow his pitches, which costs him control and movement as well as unnecessarily strain on the arm. In addition, the big righty’s motion is slightly unorthodox, with a higher-than-normal leg kick and a swivel away from the hitter. This creates deception in the delivery, but it is also harder to repeat and maintain consistency. Fernandez also has yet to develop a third pitch, imperative to success at the big league level. While he does throw a slider and change-up, neither are particularly advanced thus far.
Fortunately for Fernandez, these are correctable problems. According to scouts, he uses his lower half well in his delivery and his arm motion is very clean, allowing him to reach the upper nineties without overexerting himself. When Fernandez learns to trust his considerable gifts and not overthrow, a promotion may be soon to follow. He’s still young, but the young Cuban’s professional career is off to a rousing start. Four years after first landing on US soil, the sky’s the limit.