TCN 2016 Cards Prospect #18: Junior Fernandez

Signed for $400,000 in July 2014, the right-hander improved markedly during the 2015 season, his first in the USA.

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile

Hometown: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

2015 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NR RHS 03,02,97 6-1 180 R R 2014 FA

Selected 2015 stats

PB 0 0 1.35 2.57 2 1 0 6.2 8 1 0 2 5 0.308 1.60 0.381
GCL 3 2 3.88 2.21 11 9 0 51.0 54 22 0 15 58 0.274 1.64 0.383
total 3 2 3.59   13 10 0 57.2 62 23 0 17 63 0.278 1.63  

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (23): Junior Fernandez did not get a whole lot of traction during the community vote. WileyCard was the first to pick him, as the 17th best prospect in the system, but Fernandez didn’t get enough traction until #23 during the community vote.

Wileycard was a fairly big supporter of Fernandez. Wileycard posted that anyone who can hump it up to the plate at 100 MPH and get a lot of groundball outs has upside in his book. He said that Fernandez throws a ‘heavy’ fastball, the kind that it hurts to hit. Wileycard said he does wonder about Fernandez’s secondary pitches. His words must have inspired the masses as Fernandez got voted shortly afterward. - Jeremy Byrd

Derek Shore (14): Fernandez was among the trio of the successful Latins transitioning stateside in 2015. This right-hander has one of the liveliest arms of that group with scouts reportedly saying he flashed a plus changeup and plus breaker this past summer.

The Cardinals signed Fernandez for $400,000 in 2014, who like Alex Reyes spent time living in the United States and in his high school years, moved to the Dominican to sign as an international free agent. As a 17-year-old, Fernandez posted an unimpressive 0-5 record, allowing 29 hits and 12 walks in 28 innings while whiffing 13 in the Dominican Summer League, the same year he signed on with the Cardinals.

Despite a rocky start, Fernandez adjusted and made a relatively smooth transition stateside. The 18-year old fanned 63 batters and perhaps the outlier was 17 walks as a young Dominican fireballer in his first official season with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals. Even more impressive, Fernandez "jumped the fence" and was effective in two outings against Florida State League hitters, virtually competition three-four years older and more seasoned.

Fernandez throws four pitches - four/two-seam heater with an "outstanding" changeup and a newly-added slider after a lack of confidence in a curveball. His fastball hovers in the mid-90s consistently and can pop triple-digits, but one source who saw him as early as August said he was 91-95 due to a short-arm action that leads to poor mechanics and could eventually land him in the bullpen.

A Cardinal official I recently talked to said Fernandez is slightly more polished from delivery to stuff. His secondary stuff showed more present ability than a guy like Sandy Alcantara, but the official said both are going to be quite good as they learn to harness their overall stuff and grow into their projectable frames.

Ultimately, Fernandez doesn't turn 19 until next March. That is the equivalent of a typical high school draftee just fresh from graduation. His path as a professional baseball player is not set in stone, so a conversion to the bullpen would be years down the road in my view. Some evaluators have pegged him with the highest upside of anyone in the Cardinals system not yet in Class A. So he could open the season in Peoria to start 2016, but extended spring training seems more plausible.

Brian Walton (21): Yet to be profiled in this top 40 is Fernandez’ fellow Dominican hurler and 2015 Gulf Coast League Cardinals teammate, Sandy Alcantara. In my personal top 40, which is weighted one-third in our final rankings, Alcantara and Fernandez are the only pitchers I placed between #14 and #24.

Now, it would be easy to compare signing bonuses and give the edge to Fernandez, $400,000 to $125,000, but that would be lazy.

The age comparison also clearly goes to Fernandez, 18 months younger. Despite that, the two have the same official game experience as professionals – 2014 in the DSL and 2015 in the GCL.

Though Alcantara had better overall results this season and was more consistent, Fernandez showed great improvement after a rough start and it was he who received the end-of-season cup of coffee with Palm Beach.

In 13 innings over his first four starts this season, Fernandez was knocked around for 17 runs (14 earned) on a whopping 26 hits and six walks. However, over his last seven starts covering 38 innings, he posted a 1.89 ERA, allowing just eight earned runs on 28 hits and nine walks while fanning 44.

Physically, Fernandez is more ordinary in size, 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, while Alcantara is very tall, listed at 6-foot-4. However, his physique is that of a stringbean with his published weight 10 pounds lighter than Fernandez.

Of greater benefit to me is that I have seen them both pitch multiple times this season, from as early as extended spring training to as recently as fall instructional league. In the latter case, the two actually threw back-to-back against the Miami Marlins in a rare instructional league game in the main Roger Dean Stadium.

Both throw very hard, and in each of the comparison outings, one had an extra mile per hour on his heater over the other. Still, we are talking 99 versus 98 and 100 versus 99.

In the later appearance, Fernandez appeared to be using his secondary pitches considerably more liberally than in the spring, with deployment of a new pitch, a slider that looked very good at 82-84 mph, and a changeup at 91-92, a velocity at which some pitchers’ fastball tops out.

“We also worked on my rhythm and the mechanics of my feet, so I was locating every pitch,” Fernandez told The Cardinal Nation’s Paul Ivice in August.

The downside is that to my eyes, Fernandez is comparatively less polished at this stage of their still-early development. Not consistently putting away his leadoff men and running up higher pitch counts (perhaps due in part to working on his secondaries) led to a few more bumps in his outings.

Still I am talking about relatively minor differentiation between two very young pitchers who should start 2016 in extended spring training. I am excited about the potential of both.

Our 2016 top 40 series continues: To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 40 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of the latter are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.

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