Tony Fernandez (Getty Images)
Career Profile: Tony Fernandez
Per reader request, here is a Career Profile for Tony Fernandez.
Tony Fernandez was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays as an undrafted free agent from the Dominican Republic in 1979. He made his debut with Kinston in the High-A Carolina League at age 18 in 1980, hitting .278/.384/.332 in 62 games, stealing seven bases with a 28/17 BB/K in 187 at-bats. At this point, his assets were youth, athleticism, speed, defense, decent plate discipline, and very few strikeouts. He didn't have a lot of power, but that wasn't expected. A similar guy now would probably get something like a Grade B- from me, maybe a Grade B, depending on exact scouting reports. It is hard to say in retrospect.
Fernandez returned to Kinston in 1981 and hit .318/.423/.407 in 75 games, with a 49/20 BB/K in 280 at-bats, along with 15 steals. He was jumped to Triple-A late in the year and hit .278/.328/.391 in 31 games, very credible given that he was just 19 years old. I don't have actual scouting reports going back that far, but I vaguely remember him being rated as a strong prospect, particularly on defense, by contemporary sources at the time. I'd likely give a similar prospect at least a Grade B now, very possibly a B+ depending on what the exact reports would be. His plate discipline was quite good and he was doing fairly well at a high level at a very young age.
1982 was spent in Triple-A, where he hit .302/.353/.388 in 134 games for Syracuse, with 22 steals, 42 walks, and 31 strikeouts in 523 at-bats. He had some rough edges, being caught stealing 13 times, and he made 23 errors at shortstop, though his range factor was good. This was still very good at age 20 in a pitcher's Triple-A league, and he'd remain a B+ or very strong Grade B prospect.
Fernandez returned to Syracuse for most of 1983, hitting .300/.381/.403 with 35 steals, 57 walks, and just 27 strikeouts in 437 at-bats. He received a 15-game trial in Toronto, hitting .265/.324/.353. He continued to build a reputation as a strong defender, he was making outstanding contact at the plate, and was starting to boost his power. He's still be in the B+ range I'd say.
He spent most of 1984 in Toronto, hitting .270/.317/.356 in 88 games with a 17/15 BB/K in 233 at-bats and playing very well on defense. He took over as the full-time shortstop in 1985, playing 160 games, hitting .289/.340/.390 with 13 steals, 43 walks, and 41 strikeouts in 564 at-bats. He hit .310/.338/.428 in 1986 (OPS+105) and made his first All-Star Team.
Fernandez was a regular for the next 12 years. Interestingly, his peak offensive seasons were at the very end of his career, when he hit .321/.387/.459 (120 OPS+) and .328/.427/.449 (124 OPS+) in 1998 and 1999 at ages 36/37. By that time he'd lost enough defensive value to keep his WARs below his career peaks (2.8 in '98, 2.6 in '99) though he was still effective overall. Boosted by his fielding, his best WAR ratings were 5.2 in 1990, 5.1 in 1987, and 5.0 in '86 and '88.
His final career line was .288/.347/.399, OPS+101, in 2158 career games, WAR 47.7. His WAR ranks 33rd All-Time among shortstops, right behind Omar Vizquel (48.5) and just ahead of Phil Rizzuto (47.2). Fernandez was a four-time All Star and won four Gold Gloves.
Most Similar Players to Tony Fernandez: Dick Bartell, Edgar Renteria, Red Schoendienst (Hall), Alvin Dark, Dave Concepcion, Billy Herman (Hall), Mark Grudzielanek, Jimmy Dykes, Alan Trammell, and Orlando Cabrera. His Hall of Fame stats: Black Ink 3 (average Hall is 27), Gray Ink 51 (144), Monitor 75 (100), Standards 32 (50). Fernandez won't get into the Hall of Fame, but he was a really good player and isn't as far away as you might think. He's a better player than some guys who did get in.
As a prospect, Tony Fernandez was marked by athleticism, youth-relative-to-league, defense, and a very low strikeout rate.