Since this is the mid-season write-up, it's just a quick overview of the player. When we get to the preseason re ranking in the offseason, they'll be a lot more involved.
Stats are current as of 8/4/2019.
All write-ups were published during all-star week.
Prospect #15: RHRP Junior Fernandez
Signed as an International Free Agent forever ago (July of 2014)
Sometimes, it takes a pitcher a little longer to develop. Sometimes, a pitcher comes along and reminds us why we shouldn't over-hype a teenager, even if he is a dynamic player.
Sometimes, there's just no predicting how someone is going to rebound from injury, or how they're going to take to a change in role, or how their path will manifest.
Just two off-season's ago, Junior appeared to be on the fast track to the majors, similar to the track that Jordan Hicks and Sandy Alcantara were on. He had displayed the stuff that you'd want to see out of a potential major league starter, but he was just starting to put it all together. Then, shoulder fatigue (and other arm issues) basically took an entire season away from Fernandez, from the mid-point of 2017 to the mid-point of 2018. When he returned to the mound in 2018, it was as a reliever. Truth be told, his stuff always profiled best out of the pen, but you never give up on a rotation arm until the very last minute.
Arm injuries changed his path, and it took him the rest of 2018 to figure out the role, but he's been a completely different pitcher in 2019. When I started to compile this list, I knew that I was going to take Seth Elledge off of the list and put Fernandez on it. Initially, I had Fernandez around the 30th spot on the list because I never give minor league relief pitchers the credit that they deserve. However, upon watching Junior pitch at both Memphis and Springfield, I am now 100% sure that this is the type of arm that has a chance to be dominant in the back-end of a bullpen.
As a matter of fact, and I'm going to put this is quotes to emphasize it, Fernandez should be in the major league bullpen. Not only is his stuff good enough, but his arm's history is volatile enough that every bullet that he shoots at the minor league level is a bullet that he can't shoot at the major league level.
Yes, Junior still struggles with command, and over-throws the baseball sometimes. Guess what? So does every pitcher in their early 20's that can throw the ball 100 MPH. We've seen this with Jordan Hicks. Now, imagine if Hicks had spent the last year and a half at Springfield and Memphis pitching out of their bullpen instead of pitching out of the Cardinals bullpen. You'd call that a waste of resources, right? I probably would, too.
Here is Fernandez's first AAA strikeout. Three pitches. It took the minimum to get the batter out. Three different pitches, at that! LOVED LOVED LOVED That he started him off with the change. Loved that he followed that up with breaking pitch, only to finish him off with a 99 MPH fastball. By the way, this is a bases loaded situation that he came into. IN HIS AAA DEBUT. ENJOY:
Fernandez's delivery can be violent at times, and that's worrisome. He's come a long way in repeating his delivery, but he still doesn't do it on every pitch. That, too, is worrisome. What isn't worrisome, is that he throws one of the best change-ups in the organization, and he throws it consistently. He also pairs that with a breaking pitch that flashes plus out of the bullpen, but is less consistent than the change and fastball.
In that Memphis debut that you saw above, Fernandez exceeds his season high in innings and pitches-thrown during an outing, throwing 3.1 innings and 50 pitches. I'm anxious to see how he rebounds from being over-extended. Fernandez has been good in the three appearances since, but he was also extended to 2.1 innings two appearances ago on July 1st, and he didn't look the same afterwards during his next appearance of 1.1 innings of July 5th. I can't help but think that the Cardinals organization is trying too hard to generate multi-inning relievers. But I digress, for now.
Fernandez, while not as elite as Jordan Hicks, is a pitcher of a similar mold. He has an elite arm, when healthy, and enough deception and movement on three pitches to get plenty of swinging-strikes. Under most circumstances, I would never put a relief-only option so high on the list, but Fernandez is a unique case. If I wasn't such a fickle bitch, and if I were being honest with myself, he probably deserves to be higher. Now, let's hope for good health.
Well, Fernandez is higher on the list. I've moved him from wherever the hell he was to #15. He's been over used since finding his way to Memphis and his command is faltering because of it, but his stuff is still electric. We'll be seeing him in STL soon, I suspect.
Thanks to Fangraph for the stats!
Thanks For Reading!!