I present to you my list of the top 35 prospects within the Cardinals organization!! The list is both exhausting and ever-evolving.
I am aggressive with who I deem to be a "Graduate." You can read the post that I wrote on The Graduates by following this link. As a heads up, you won't find Lane Thomas, Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera, Andrew Knizner, Rangel Ravelo, or Edmundo Sosa on The Dirty Thirty-Five (R.I.Cardinals Prospect.P to Tampa Bay Ray Randy Arozarena and Texas Ranger Adolis "JAG" Garcia).
There is also another group of about 15 prospects that I could have written about. They are on the outside looking in, currently. I did write in-depth about five of them, and I presented those fellas in this article. I also briefly touch on a bunch of other prospects in that article.
Finally, I totally cheated and basically just copied and pasted the individual write-ups from the "Position Rankings" articles that I wrote after Black Friday. I hadn't realized how thorough those write-ups were until I started to redoing the D35. Those write-ups are the shells for these posts. I have added additional gifs and thoughts to each and I've done some MAJOR editing within each write-up, as well.
Please enjoy! Please have fun! Please tell me what you think!
RHP Junior Fernández
International Signing, 2014
So here is the great thing about including Fernández on the Dirty Thirty-Five: I don't have to say much because you already know a lot about him!! So, let's fire through this one. First, let's start with this wonderful little display of emotion during spring training. He struck out the side this inning, and each strikeout yielded a fun little display of emotion that I just had to gif:
But before we get too far, let me destroy that fun little narrative that was jammed Jean Val Jean-deeply down our throats during the 2019 season by the television broadcast after Fernández made his major league debut.
Yes, Fernández did start the 2019 season with Palm Beach. And, yeah, it's a remarkable story that he went all of the way from the A+ level to the majors in one season. SO. DAMN. COOL!
However, this part of the narrative ignores the fact that Fernández spent the end of his 2018 season at Springfield, and it glosses over the fact that the Cardinals were stupid for starting him in Palm Beach in the first place. The Cardinals tried to do this cute little thing where they brought in a bunch of career minor league pitchers on minor league deals with the intent of using pitchers that they drafted or signed as starters out of the minor league bullpens. It was a dumb and foolish move, and it didn't pay off on any level. It was narrow-sighted, and they lucked out with the progress that Fernández made.
All of the credit for this goes to Fernández. A lesser prospect would have entered the season demoralized, and it would have handicapped their season from the get-go. Or, a lesser prospect would have taken it as a spiteful move, and they would have gone to war every appearance in an effort to prove the organization wrong. That's a move that usually backfires at the minor league level, as well.
Instead, Fernández handled it like a professional. He pitched within himself. Junior didn't over-extend. He just worked on locating his pitches and repeating his mechanics. It took him a month to finally get the promotion to the level that he should have started at.
First, his fastball can reach 100 MPH when he's pumping it in. That's not even his best pitch. His best pitch is the changeup that he's been throwing for years, and it's a pitch that has easily been the most underrated within the organization for the 17 years or so that he's been a part of the organization. It has depth and run and fade, and if it were a person it would "fuck."
From there, Fernández throws a slider, and that has really been the difference in his ability to dominate at the back of a bullpen. It's not as advanced as the heater or the changeup, but it's effectiveness in the pen varies from average to plus. I think that I've seen him toy with a sinker so far this spring, but we are going to have to wait and see.
It should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention that Fernández tore apart the competition at AA. The batting average against of .176, the slugging percentage against of .196, and the 42 strikeouts in 29 innings prove that. The strikeout rate that he put up, since you asked, was an incredible 36.5%. He was ready for that challenge at the beginning of the season. With three pitches that elicit swings and misses (fastball, slider, and changeup), nothing short of the most advanced talent that baseball has to offer was going to be able to do damage against Fernández out of the bullpen.
What was fun to see was that he basically repeated these numbers at the AAA level. His strikeout rate dropped to 26.5%, but the contact that he was not eliciting was of the weak variety.The Cardinals did this weird thing (that I view as harmful with this type of pitcher, a pitcher with arm fatigue issues) where they tried desperately to stretch him out into a weekly multi-inning reliever. No surprise, but this was when Fernández's command started to really struggle. You'll know when he is fatigued because he has a tendency to spike pitches.
Here's the easy thing about Fernández: when he doesn't have it, he doesn't have it. You'll know pretty quickly. Think of it a bit like Trevor Rosenthal used to be. You know what I mean! How you could tell if his command was going to be good enough by the first batter he would face in an appearance. If he's wild early in an appearance, his command is gone. You just have to go get him and try again later.
So far this spring, it's clear that Fernández has gotten his body into tremendous shape. He was in great shape last season, but he looks like he took his condition up to an entirely new level. He's dealt with arm-fatigue issues in the past, and it's really great to see that his body is currently in peak shape. He looks big and strong, for sure. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that he is displaying such dominance, and that's why everyone with a site to publish is writing about him as a potential closing candidate.
There is one thing that I absolutely hate about Fernández, and it's that he works SLOW. It's not Pedro Báez slow, but it's too slow for my liking. He has his pace and his speed, and I'm fine with both if he's pitching up to his capability, but I swear he's frustrating to watch sometimes. It's kind of a fun cycle, though. You see, what happens is, batter's step out of the box on him. They ask for time a lot when he's pitching. However, all that seems to do is fire him up. When he's fired up, he's pitching at his best. So, that's a lot of fun for the "game within a game" aspect of baseball, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating to watch.
I have always been reluctant to include relief pitchers on the D35, so please understand that putting anyone that is strictly a relief pitcher this high on the list means that they are something special, in my eyes. In a different world, a just world, Fernández would still be a starting pitcher on the cusp of a rotation spot without ever dealing with arm issues. There's a chance that Fernández is going to pitching out of the bullpen with three above-average pitches, at the very least.
Fernández is going to be a fireman at the major league level at the very least if he can stay healthy, mark my words. Unless he takes a huge step backwards this offseason (Narrator: He hasn't), there's no reason to think that he isn't capable of pitching out of the bullpen from day one of the 2020 season. There isn't a world in which he isn't one of the ten best right-handed bullpen options for the Cardinals at the beginning of the 2020 season. So, if he is sent back to Memphis, know that it's about the Cardinals' being stupid with their 40 and 26-man roster as they try to get cute with pitchers that don't have options left, and that it has nothing to do with how good or talented Fernández is, more than likely. The Cardinals really could have used this dynamic arm in the playoffs, and they were dumb for keeping him off of the playoff roster.
If used properly and at the start of the season, Fernández is going to be a valuable bullpen piece for the 2020 team.
Look at that beautiful picture by @Cardinalsgifs. I'm luck that he does stuff like that for me.
Thanks For Reading!!