Fernandez initially went to high school in the Miami area before moving to the Dominican Republic and emerging as a coveted international prospect. Signed by St. Louis for $400,000 in July 2014, he flashed electric stuff and triple-digit velocity as a starter early in his career while making a quick climb through the Cardinals’ system, though arm issues sidelined him for large portions of the 2017-18 seasons. A clean bill of health along with a move to the bullpen allowed Fernandez to put it all together in 2019, as he ascended from Class A Advanced Palm Beach to Triple-A Memphis before making his Major League debut on Aug. 11. He made 13 appearances out of the Cardinals’ bullpen down the stretch, racking up 16 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings after he had compiled a 1.52 ERA with 80 strikeouts in 65 Minor League innings (45 appearances).
Fernandez makes a living by pitching off of a plus sinker that flirts with triple digits and averaged 96.8 mph in his first big league exposure. He induces more ground balls than whiffs with the pitch but gets plenty of the latter with his above-average changeup. Thrown in the upper 80s with late fade, the pitch was Fernandez’s most effective offering in the Majors, where hitters batted just .071 with a 55.2 percent whiff rate against it. He enjoyed similar success with his slider (.182 BAA, 73.3% whiff rate), a solid-average pitch that he throws in the upper 80s with swing-and-miss bite.
While Fernandez appears to have found a home in the bullpen, he will need to throw more quality strikes with his sinker to profile as a true high-leverage reliever. He has the pure stuff to be effective in that role but requires more fine-tuning. The Cardinals believe Fernandez is ready to take the next step after the right-hander’s breakout performance across four levels in 2019.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 70 | Slider: 45 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45
Following the same path top prospect Alex Reyes did -- starting high school in the United States but then moving to the Dominican Republic and signing as an international free agent -- Fernandez landed a $400,000 bonus at the outset of the 2014 international signing period. He created quite a buzz in the Gulf Coast League during his United States debut in 2015 with his triple-digit fastball and dominant outings, then threw well with a jump to full-season ball in 2016 before some late struggles in the Florida State League. While a return to that level in 2017 went much better for the right-hander, he was shut down at the end of July with some arm tenderness that would keep him off the mound until June the next year.
Even after his arm trouble, Fernandez still has one of the best fastballs in the system, one that reaches 99 mph, and he can combine it with a changeup that flashes plus. However, Fernandez's breaking ball and command both have been slow to develop, and he's never quite dominated the way someone with his premium stuff should. His slider is fringe-average on its best days, and he can be predictable with how he sequences his fastball-changeup pairing. His control comes and goes, leading to elevated walk rates, while his lack of feel for pitching hasn't allowed him to miss as many bats as he should.
The Cardinals moved Fernandez to the bullpen last summer upon his return from injury both to protect him from future injuries and because they believe his strengths will be accentuated more in the role. If he can stay healthy and make the necessary improvements, Fernandez could soon find himself in the Cardinals' big league bullpen.
Back in 2015, the Cardinals had a pair of flamethrowers create quite a buzz in the Gulf Coast League. Sandy Alcantara has since been traded to the Marlins while Fernandez's momentum has stalled a bit after two extended stays in the Class A Advanced Florida State League.
It's not that Fernandez was awful in Palm Beach in 2017; he just didn't dominate the way someone with his premium stuff should, and he was shut down at the end of July with some arm tenderness as the Cardinals decided to err on the side of caution. He still has one of the best fastballs in the system, one that reaches 99 mph, and he can combine it with a changeup that flashes plus. Two things holding Fernandez back are his lack of a consistent slider and a lack of command. His breaking ball is developing, but it's fringe-average at best right now, and he'll predictably rely on his fastball-changeup combination to get outs when he needs to. His control comes and goes, leading to elevated walk rates, while his lack of feel for pitching hasn't allowed him to miss as many bats as he should.
Fernandez is just 21, so there is time for him to turn his projection into performance. He didn't return from that issue until June, and when he did so, it was as a reliever, which could be his long-term role.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 70 | Slider: 45 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 45 | Overall: 50
Fernandez, like Sandy Alcantara, created quite a buzz in the Gulf Coast League during his United States debut in 2015 with his triple-digit fastball and dominant outings. He threw well with a jump to full-season ball in 2016, but struggled when he was bumped up to the Florida State League. A return to that level in 2017 was much better for the right-hander.
Fernandez was 19 for all of the '16 season and he is still learning how to pitch with his high-octane stuff. At the lower levels, he could get away with just blowing it by hitters, but as he starts to get challenged more to make pitches, he'll have to set up his pitches better and have a plan of attack. He has the weapons to do so. His fastball touches 99-100 mph at times, but his slider -- which eventually should be an average breaking ball -- isn't currently good enough to keep guys off of his fastball, and he got hit more than he should. His changeup is currently his best secondary offering.
Fernandez has much to work on in terms of his command, getting ahead in the count early and his overall pitchability, but he'll also be just 20 for all of the 2017 season, with more than enough time to figure things out.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 70 | Slider: 45 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 50
Following the same path top prospect Alex Reyes did -- starting high school in the United States, but then moving to the Dominican Republic and signing as an international free agent -- Fernandez's United States debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2015, followed by an even more successful jump to full-season ball in 2016, has the Cardinals thinking their $400,000 investment in 2014 was money well spent.
Fernandez lit up radar guns last summer, throwing his four-seamer in the 94-99 mph range and touching triple digits on occasion. But the teenager is more than just a thrower, with a solid feel for pitching. He'll throw a two-seamer with pretty good sink and shows an advanced feel for his changeup, an offspeed pitch that could be plus in time. His third pitch is his slider, which is fairly new to him. Fernandez throws it with tight spin, but it's still inconsistent.
His ability to command his fastball and changeup alone should allow him to succeed at some level. If the slider improves, Fernandez has the chance to be a pretty special starter. If not, his power stuff certainly would work out of a bullpen. Fernandez's combination of stuff and pitchability gives him the most upside of any pitcher in the system after Reyes.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 70 | Slider: 45 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 45
Fernandez hasn't taken the most typical path to the professional ranks, but it's one the Cardinals aren't unfamiliar with. Much like top prospect Alex Reyes, Fernandez went from the United States to the Dominican Republic in high school. The move to the D.R. in 2013 led to him signing in 2014 for $400,000.
Fernandez impressed with his electric arm during his United States pro debut in 2015, lighting up radar guns across the Gulf Coast League. While he's not the biggest guy in the world at 6-foot-1, he's very athletic on the mound and his live arm can deliver fastballs that touch triple digits at times. He's still learning how to be more pitcher than thrower, but he's already shown progress in that regard. He has the chance to have a plus changeup and effective breaking ball when all is said and done.
With a three-pitch mix and the ability to throw strikes, Fernandez has the chance to start, much like Carlos Martinez has shown. But like Martinez, he could also fill a bullpen role if needed in the future.