Monday, September 26, 2016

Meet a Prospect: Jose Fernandez

Wow, talk about taking a punch to the gut yesterday morning when I woke up to the news that the Miami Marlins had lost their 24-year old pitching ace to a boating accident. 24-years old. Talk about the whole immortality thing hitting you like a ton of bricks. I wanted to say something that could put some at ease while really honoring and showcasing what Fernandez had been able to do in such a short time in Major League Baseball and I kept coming back to a Meet a Prospect post. It's the only way I know how to honor someone like this so that's what I'll do, and I hope I do well with it. This is Meet a Prospect: The Jose Fernandez Special Edition.

Jose D. Fernandez was born on July 31, 1992 and died on September 25, 2016. Fernandez was a Cuban American professional pitcher who spent his entire career with the Miami Marlins after defecting from Santa Clara, Cuba where he was born. Fernandez tried to defect from Cuba three times before successfully making it to the states before the 2011 MLB First Year Players Draft.  While still in Cuba though Fernandez lived on the same street as MLB shortstop Aledmys Diaz and even played on the same youth baseball team as the St. Louis Cardinals star. Conveniently, Diaz faced Fernandez in his first MLB at-bat and wouldn't you know it he hit a home run. Maybe Fernandez gave him that one?

Fernandez failed to defect from Cuba three times before finally leaving Cuba in 2007, but not without issue. Fernandez's mother fell off the boat during the trip and Fernandez had to dive into turbulent waters to save his mother's life. Fernandez was a hero, and not for anything he ever did on a MLB pitching mound. When Fernandez reached U.S. soil he attended Braulio Alonso High School in Tampa, Florida although not without issues. Before Fernandez's senior season the Florida High School Athletic Association ruled that Fernandez was ineligible to play since he entered ninth grade while in Cuba back in 2006. Fernandez appealed, while the Cincinnati Reds prepared to sign him as an international free agent with a $1.3 million signing bonus, and won his appeal allowing him to pitch during his senior year. Fernandez threw two no-hitters as a senior and went 13-1 with a 2.35 ERA.

What Fernandez did as a High School pitcher was enough for the Miami Marlins who took him 14th overall in the 2011 MLB First Year Players Draft. Fernandez signed for $2 million and was immediately assigned to the New York Penn League. Fernandez finished 2011 there before receiving a bump up to Class-A ball in the SAL League in 2012 where he started a combined no-hitter, won SAL Pitcher of the Week twice and represented the Marlins in the 2012 XM Futures Game. Fernandez finished the season in High-A Ball where he finished 2012 as the Miami Marlins Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Fernandez was on his way.

Fernandez was named the Marlins best prospect before the 2013 season and was named the fifth best prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball American but Miami opted to send Fernandez back to the minor leagues out of spring training. Injuries to Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez though led Fernandez to starting the season with the club on their 25-man roster and Fernandez did not disappoint despite being on a pitch limit. See Fernandez was promoted by owner Jeffrey Loria as a goodwill gesture to the fans who just went through another fire sale the previous season and Fernandez had the organization, and the city of Miami, on his right shoulder. Fernandez had to be a hero once again.

Fernandez was selected to represent the Miami Marlins at the 2013 All-Star Game after being donned one of the best young pitchers in the game. Fernandez pitched a perfect sixth inning in that game getting outs from Dustin Pedroia, Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis. Two of them were via strikeout while Miguel Cabrera popped out for his out. Fernandez finished the season with a 4.2 WAR and a 174 ERA+ which are both Top 10 stats for pitchers 21-years and younger in the history of Major League Baseball since 1900. Fernandez hit his first career home run on September 11, 2013 and finished the season 3rd in the NL Cy Young Award vote behind Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals.

Fernandez was the Marlins Opening Day starter in 2014, the youngest in MLB history since Dwight Gooden in 1986, but on May 12 Fernandez was added to the 15-day disabled list with a right elbow sprain. An MRI revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament and on May 16th Fernandez went under the knife with Tommy John surgery after making just eight starts that season and posting a 4-2 record with a 2.44 ERA and 70 strikeouts. Fernandez was out until July 2nd of the 2015 season but when he returned it didn't look like he skipped a beat. Fernandez struck out six in six innings of work while also hitting a home run in the start.

Fernandez entered the 2016 season looking to help with his recovery from Tommy John surgery and vowed to throw less fastballs this season. Amidst offseason trade rumors both before 2016 and with potential trade talks already circulating for after the 2016 season Fernandez went out and simply did what Fernandez always did, he pitched and he pitched well. Fernandez finished the season, and his career, with a 16-8 record with a 2.86 ERA and 253 strikeouts in 182.1 innings pitched. At the time of his death the Miami Marlins were still in the discussion for the National League Wild Card, although were facing elimination early in the final week of the season.

Fernandez loved pitching in Miami which was evident by the fact that he was the first modern era pitcher to win his first 17 career home decisions as well as going 24-1 in his first 25 home decisions. Fernandez was a National League All-Star in his first season in 2013 while also notching the NL Rookie of the Year Award in the same year. Fernandez finished third in the Cy Young Award voting that season. Fernandez was 24-years old. Rest, young soul. Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to his friends, family, the Miami Marlins organization and their fans.

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