This article was originally published at the Redbird Daily by Colin Garner, and is now proud to call the Cards Conclave home. Throughout July, we’ll be re-running all 30 Prospect articles as we lead up to Colin’s Mid-Season Prospect Update later in the month.
In Collaboration with Kyle Reis and Birds On The Black, Colin Garner presents you with The Cardinals Top 30 Prospects! Today, we have #16, Junior Fernandez.
16. Junior Fernandez – RHP
Signed on July 3, 2014
Entering age-21 season
2017 ERA: 3.69
There is no more intriguing, exciting, and downright confusing prospect in our Top 30 than Junior Fernandez. There are so many factors that went into his 2017 season it’s difficult to sort. Let’s do some digging…
What I Like
Athleticism and velocity. He’s built like Carlos Martinez. (That’s not a comp, just an observation about his size!!!). He has the ability to generate velocity in the mid to upper 90’s, which is nearly a prerequisite for prospect lists these days. According to the folks over at Baseball America, Fernandez’s fastball sat 93-95 and touched 96 last year in Peoria. Fastball command is an improvement area for almost all young pitchers, and Fernandez is no exception.
Velocity is even more effective when paired with a good changeup, and Fernandez’s is downright nasty. It would make @stlCupofJoe blush. Baseball America ranked his changeup as the best in the Cardinals’ system, high praise considering the number of high-ceiling arms the Cardinals have.
That pitch is just ridiculous. He missed arm-side to a right-handed hitter, meaning the ball is moving into the hitter’s barrel. It didn’t matter though because he doesn’t slow down his arm, making the speed difference nearly impossible to pick up, and even harder to stay back on when 95 mph is in the back of the hitter’s head.
There’s a couple of miscellaneous things I like about Fernandez, although the two most exciting aspects of his game are mentioned above. He had a solid ERA at Palm Beach, but his FIP suggests he was a little bit lucky. He also got ground balls at a healthy rate and didn’t allow very many homers. Regardless, the pitcher-friendly nature of Roger Dean (Chevrolet?) Stadium shouldn’t be overlooked.
What I Don’t Like
Injury concerns. He left his last start on July 26 with a strained right bicep tendon and didn’t pitch again. The club was careful with him by holding him out the rest of the season, which is probably a wise move. He should be 100% at the start of Spring Training, but his velocity, which dipped somewhat around midseason last year, will be an indicator of his health and something to keep an eye on.
The injury was so damn frustrating because Fernandez was rolling in July. He made 3 starts before the July 26 game when he got injured and had a 1.40 ERA in those starts. He looked like someone beginning to dominate the High-A level before his bicep tendon stopped him in his tracks.
From a performance standpoint, there weren’t enough strikeouts in Fernandez’s game last year. He only struck out 15.1% of hitters he faced last year. His fastball-changeup combination is simply too good to not generate whiffs at a higher rate. On a similar note, his BB% was a little higher than I’d like at 10.2%. Between those two numbers, Fernandez is allowing too many free baserunners while depending on batted-ball luck to generate outs. It’s not a great combination going forward, and he needs to widen the game between his K% and his BB%.
A huge factor in his development is his breaking ball. Right now, it’s just not very good. If he can make that pitch major league average, and pair it with (according to Fangraphs) a 70/70 fastball and 60/70 changeup, his ceiling raises dramatically.
Thanks for reading! As always thanks to Baseball Reference and Fangraphs for their statistics databases. Be sure to check out Kyle’s post tomorrow at Birds On The Black, and listen to Prospect To Be Named Later for even more minor league content.