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2019 Marlins Season Preview: Julian Fernández

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Easing his way back from Tommy John surgery, Fernández should be a fascinating attraction during the second half of the season.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As of February 17, Julian Fernández is the only player in Marlins major league camp who we can say with 100 percent certainty will not be on their Opening Day roster. Bummer.

[awkward silence]

I encourage you to keep reading anyway! Fernández has an extraordinary tool and should have an opportunity to show it off against major league competition later this summer.

How did he get here? Claimed off waivers from the Giants on Nov. 19, 2018

2018 MiLB Stats: N/A

2018 MLB Stats: N/A

2019 ZiPS Projection: 4.82 ERA, 5.03 FIP, 1.63 WHIP, 27 K in 37.1 IP

Here was J.J. Cooper’s evaluation of Fernández for the Baseball America 2016 Rule 5 draft preview (subscription required and recommended):

Fernández has a truly special right arm. As a reliever, Fernández sits at 98-100, touching 102-103 with outstanding life. He doesn’t really have a secondary pitch he can rely on yet and his fastball misses the zone almost as often as it finds it, but a rebuilding team could take a chance on one of the best arms in baseball, sit him on the bench in all but blowout games and hope that a few years from now, they have a dominant reliever.

And here’s what he looked like back then, courtesy of Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs:

Fernández moved onto full-season ball in the Rockies organization the following season, demonstrating somewhat improved control. He issued only 18 walks in 58 innings...but also 11 wild pitches.

That was encouraging enough for the Giants to select Fernández in the 2017 Rule 5 draft. He made the leap from Low-A to major league spring games with predictably rough results (13.50 ERA, 2.05 WHIP in 7.1 IP).

It’s unclear whether they would’ve carried Fernández on their Opening Day roster last season if healthy. His ulnar collateral ligament made the choice for them. Diagnosed with a right UCL sprain at the end of Spring Training, doctors recommended full-blown Tommy John surgery to remedy the issue.

Mature relievers occasionally make it back from the procedure within 12 months, but the timeline tends to be more deliberate for prospects. The Marlins didn’t hesitate to place him on the 60-day injured list Wednesday, the first day that they were eligible to use the IL. Fernández cannot be reinstated to their roster until late May.

In addressing the media during the first week of Spring Training, president of baseball operations Michael Hill sounded optimistic about getting Fernández a taste of the big leagues in 2019.

“He’s on schedule,” Hill said. “He looks great. Big and strong. Feels great, is on track with the progression.” (h/t Joe Frisaro, MLB.com)

Whenever Fernández is cleared to compete again, you can bet that the Marlins will utilize the maximum 30 days permitted for a minor league rehab assignment. That way, the Dominican right-hander can fine-tune his cutter and curveball. Regaining all of his fastball velocity won’t matter unless he trusts those secondaries.

Circle July 2 on your calendars. Fernández would need to be on the active roster by that date—and stay active the remainder of the season—for the Marlins to get rid of those Rule 5 restrictions, allowing them to be more flexible with him moving forward.