Before this weekend, Jose Fernandez was best known at the Miami Marlins prospect who beaned Giancarlo Stanton in the head during live batting practice.
After his spring debut for the Marlins, however, the focus will be on what he is: one of the top prospects in all of baseball, and a 20-year old on a fast track to the majors.
Getting his first taste of Grapefruit League action on Saturday in relief as opposed to starting, Fernandez took on the Washington Nationals squad (well, replacement squad, anyway), retiring the first five batters he saw with a couple of strikeouts mixed in.
He finished his two innings of work having allowed just a single, and did a good job of keeping the ball low as he drew weak contact from opposing batters (when he didn’t strike them out), evidenced by a 4-1 GB-FB ratio.
Fernandez’s outing was as impressive as the Marlins could have asked for their top prospect, who was drafted with the 14th overall pick.
Since that time, Baseball America’s No. 5 prospect in the majors has only dominated the minors, tearing through Single-A and Advanced-A with a 1.75/0.93 ERA/WHIP through 134 innings in 2013. The right-hander has shown impressive command of his arsenal, putting together a 4.51 K/BB ratio while mowing down batters at a clip of 10.6 K/9.
His name has been thrown around in comps with some of the very best in the league, but his lack of Double-A experience means that there won’t be any chance — regardless of how well Fernandez pitches in the rest of his Spring Training outing — that he will open the season with a roster spot on the team.
For now, the starting five will be patched together by a rather large group of young pitchers competing with each other, and is headed by a reluctant ace-by-default in Ricky Nolasco.
It won’t stay that way for long, though. Fernandez is on his way, and it’s only a matter of the righty dominating Double-A for a few months in 2013 before he’s knocking on the Marlins’ door. Miami, being a prospect-laden club, won’t have a reason to hold him back, and the 20-year old will likely get his first chance at the majors in the final month of the coming season.
If he can keep impressing the Marlins with his spring outings, he may even get the shot before he turns 21 at the end of July.