Updated: Feb 26, 2018
In conjunction with my friend Colin Garner over at The Redbird Daily, we present to you our combined list of the Top 30 Prospects in the Cardinals organization! Every other day for the next two months, From January 28th until March 29th, we will be presenting you with an exhaustive evaluation on each of the top 30 prospects in the organization starting with prospect #30 and counting down to prospect #1. This is our combined list, not our own individual lists. For additional information on how we came these rankings, CLICK HERE. Without further delay, we present...
Prospect #16, RHP Junior Fernandez
Age To Start The 2018 Season: 21
Signed Out Of The Dominican Republic In 2014
2017 FIP: 4.27
Kyle Reis (Prospect #15 On Personal List, Prior To Combining Lists With Colin Garner)
What I like most about Fernandez is that he does truly possess top of the rotation stuff. Fernandez throws the best change up in the organization, aside from Luke Weaver, Alex Reyes, and Michael Wacha. He pairs that underrated change up with a fastball that, while erratic, can touch the upper 90's. But it's not all velocity with Fernandez. is's breaking stuff is truly nasty. With the help of the amazing NChill17, we can show you in beautifully colored detail. This is his change up:
You'll notice that he doesn't slow down his arm and he doesn't change his arm angle or release point. This pitch can be devastating. During the season, we saw signs that his third offering, a cutter that's a little lazy, could be a nice complimentary pitch. He also throws a slider (or a curve, depending on who read/talk to) that most would view as his better third offering. I personally like the cutter better right now.
Fernandez was responsible for pitching two of the seven best starts in the Cardinals organization in 2017.
On April 19th he allowed 1 hit over eight scoreless innings while striking out six and allowing only one walk. He took a no hitter into the 7th inning of that game and the only hit he allowed was a single. I was listening to that game and the broadcasters - when they weren't talking about each others mothers (For real, minor league broadcasts are a trip) - couldn't believe how filthy Fernandez was and how off balance he had the hitters.
Then, on May 9th he threw the first complete game of his career. He allowed 1 earned run, 5 hits, and 1 walk while striking out 6 and throwing 65 of 97 pitches for strikes. If you don't think these players, these kids, care about going the distance then you don't know anything. Fernandez was so proud of throwing a complete game that he went home, took a screenshot of the stat line from that start, and posted the picture on Twitter.
The start on April 19th was more dominant by nearly every measurable metric or stat, but that start was just business as usual to Junior. Going the distance for the first time meant the world to Fernandez and I love that so much.
While it did come in the pitcher friendly Florida State League, I'm a big fan of the batting average against of .243 on the season. When he's "on" he's hard to hit. He lets up way too many walks, but the slugging percentage against of .333 helps to flesh out just how hard he is to make solid contact against when he is throwing strikes. He only threw 94.1 innings because he was shut down with shoulder fatigue in July, but the 5 HR allowed on the season also serves to show you that he doesn't allow a ton of hard contact.
Fernandez has been around forever and he's been on the top prospect radar since the minute he entered the organization. Because of that, one thing that I always lose track of is that he is still so young. He spent all of the 2017 as a 20 year old pitching at an advanced level. The fact that he was as successful as he was, even with the inconsistency, is something that shouldn't be taken lightly. Many scouts say that his ultimate role will be in the back end of the bullpen, but I see the skill and the development (along with the track that he's on) and I see more. For me, his fallback is the pen. Make no mistake, with some refinement Fernandez could easily be the 2018 surging-pitcher in the organization, similar to what Jack Flaherty was in 2017.
Fernandez finished his season very strong after a lot of inconsistency early on. Over his last 5 starts spanning 24.1 innings he held hitters to a batting average against of .190 and a slugging percentage of .262. Two of those starts were abbreviate, but when a slugging percentage against is that low that indicates pure dominance.
What I don't like about Junior is the lack of consistency that he showed during the season. Hell, the inconsistency that he's shown in his career to this point, for that matter. The other big red flag was that he was shut down on July 27 because of shoulder discomfort in a start that saw his fastball velocity dip into the mid 80's.
Let's start with the obvious shoulder fatigue concerns. There is nothing more detrimental or concerning for a pitcher than shoulder issues. If the fatigue/injury was the elbow then we'd be able to look at an extensive list of pitchers that have come back strong to have a sustained career.
The list of pitchers that have recovered successfully from a serious shoulder issue is substantially shorter. As of right now there's no reason to believe that it was a substantial shoulder injury, but it's still something that I'm worried about.
Much of Fernandez' success is a product of the fastball velocity. Everyone of his pitches works off of that pitch. He's well rested now, so if the velocity doesn't tick back up to, at least, the mid 90's then the success that he's had will not be duplicated as he advances up the minor league levels. I'll be keeping a close eye on that to start the season. I believe that he'll start the season in Springfield and that'll make viewing and monitoring way easier.
I mentioned above that he ended the season well, but I also intentionally omitted some important stats that make those last 5 starts worrisome. First, he walked 13 batters over those 24.1 innings. Second, he only struck out 12 over those innings. So, even when he was pitching well he was pitching erratic. Of course, that lack of control could be chalked up to the shoulder fatigue that crept in. Either way, even the good parts of his 2017 were marred in questions.
Lastly, the strikeout per 9 of 5.78 and the walks per 9 of 3.89 both need to be improved, and greatly. As we often catch ourselves saying about hard throwing prospects at that age, he's too talented to walk that many hitters. The wrinkle with Fernandez during his 2017 season is that the walks didn't come with strikeouts. Fernandez is the type of pitcher that's good enough to strike out 9 per nine in the minors. That's where he'll need to be in 2018, especially if the walk rate doesn't go down.
If I'm comparing Junior Fernandez to anyone, right now, it's Dan Straily-type production. He has a repertoire similar to Michael Pineda. I don't believe he possesses that type of strikeout potential, so maybe a Straily/Pineda hybrid. With that being said, I guess the smart money is on his ultimate ceiling being that of Michael Pineda, then. If he ends up exiled to bullpen duties he'll be something similar to Grant Balfour with an ultimate peak-potential of David Robertson.
As always, these articles can't be done without Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. They are equally as reliant on the skills of Cardinalsgif's and NChill17. It's a pleasure to do this list with my friend Colin Garner at The Redbird Daily.
Thanks For Reading!