While last year's top prospect Christian Yelich exceeded expectations in Jupiter, the most exciting prospect this year has been Jose Fernandez, the Cuban-born right-hander whom the Marlins selected in last year's amateur draft. Fernandez posted gaudy numbers across the South Atlantic and Florida State Leagues, earning himself a ticket to the All-Star Futures Game.
I liked Jose Fernandez at the time of the draft, but I never anticipated his meteoric rise through the system. I thought Fernandez could slide into a reliever role, and I expressed skepticism over his conditioning and his work-in-progress change up, but these criticisms proved misguided. He hit the ground running for Greensboro and never looked back, putting up a fantastic 1.59 ERA in 79 innings pitched, with 99 strikeouts and 18 walks. The Marlins decided in late June that Fernandez needed stronger competition, and promoted him to high Class-A Jupiter. Fernandez's numbers declined slightly, but were still excellent for a 19-year-old facing competition two to four years older than him. He posted a 1.96 ERA in 55 innings pitched, with 59 strikeouts and 17 walks. Combined with his numbers in Greensboro, Fernandez finished with a 1.75 ERA in 134 innings pitched, with 158 strikeouts and 35 walks.
Today, Fernandez sits among the very best prospects in baseball. John Sickels of Minor League Ball recently ranked him as the second best pitching prospect, behind only the superhuman Dylan Bundy. Like Bundy, Fernandez projects as a front-line starter. His numbers are more impressive than many past Marlins' pitching prospects, including Josh Johnson. Josh Beckett had stronger numbers in high Class-A, but he was also two years older than Fernandez is today.
I expect the Marlins will take a cautious approach with Fernandez next year. He will likely begin the 2013 season in Double-A Jacksonville and may earn a promotion to Triple-A New Orleans during the year. If the Marlins contend next season, then the front office may accelerate his timeline. If not, then Fernandez will fit nicely into the 2014 Opening Day roster.
Marlins fans have much to look forward to. Fernandez has an overpowering mid-90s fastball and advanced command for such a young pitcher. He should transition well to the upper-minors and emerge as a force to be reckoned with.