The huge news in prospectland today comes from Miami, where the Marlins made the decision to put phenom pitching prospect Jose Fernandez in the starting rotation. Injuries to Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez, plus poor pitching from recently demoted Jacob Turner, made Fernandez the choice despite his lack of experience above High-A.
Here is my pre-spring take on Fernandez in the 2013 Baseball Prospect Book followed by additional comments.
Jose Fernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-3 WT: 215 DOB: July 31, 1992
Drafted in the first round from a Tampa high school in 2011, Cuban defector Jose Fernandez had a stellar 2012 campaign in the Marlins system, emerging as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. The statistical case is obvious: all of his numbers were terrific. Note particularly the fact that he's only given up two home runs in 138.1 professional innings. The scouting reports are as good as the numbers. Fernandez works consistently at 93-96 MPH and has been clocked as high as 99. The fastball has movement as well as velocity, making it tough for hitters to square up. He also has an excellent power curveball, will throw some sliders, and has made good strides with his changeup. His command isn't perfect, but it is solid for a young power pitcher, and he does a good job mixing his arsenal and pitching, not just throwing the ball past people. Fernandez is physically mature and unlikely to gain additional velocity, but he's already got plenty so concerns about "projection" don't apply in this case. The only blemish in his profile is a mound presence described as "brash," which turns some people off. However, Fernandez backs it up with talent and results, and no one questions his work ethic and desire to succeed. If he stays healthy, he will develop into a genuine ace. Grade A.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Fernandez pitched just two innings in major league camp this spring, allowing one hit with two strikeouts, which does nothing to change the pre-spring analysis: he is one of the very best pitching prospects in baseball, with a superior combination of stuff and command. He posted a 1.59 ERA in 14 starts in Low-A last year with a 99/18 K/BB ratio, followed by a 1.96 ERA with a 59/17 K/BB in 55 innings in High-A.
I felt pre-spring that Fernandez could advance more quickly than anticipated, although the decision to move him up now is very much a surprise. My thinking was that he would be more of a second-half candidate, after (probably) blowing away Double-A and Triple-A.
Moving him up this quickly is certainly a risk, but everything we know about Fernandez indicates that he is unusually confident and mature for a pitcher his age. In his case, skipping the high minors may very well be less of a risk than it normally would be. On the other hand, the Marlins don't have a good team behind him, which is something of a Catch-22 for a young pitcher: the crappier your team, the more likely they are to give you a chance, but since the team behind you is crappy, the less likely you are to do well due to lack of run support and/or poor defense.
In any event, the Marlins certainly just got a lot more interesting.