By: Omar Moubayed
July 8, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; World pitcher Jose Fernandez delivers a pitch during the second inning of the 2012 All Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE
Stop me if you’ve heard the following line before; Cuban defector makes the major leagues. It seems lately, the Cuban population in the MLB is starting to return to the levels that we have seen in decades past. Amongst those numbers there are always a few pitchers that catch the national eye. Those pitchers get notoriety, not only because of their stories, but because of their amazing talent. The MLB was wowed by the Hernandez brothers, Livan and Orlando (El Duque), Jose Contreras, Aroldis Chapman, and who can forget about Dodger sensation Yasiel Puig. These guys risk their lives to get out of an island that is essentially a prison and only 90 miles south of our beautiful country. The two lands couldn’t be more different.
While those two countries share almost no similarities with government, culture, food, and language; there is one thing that unites the two. The love of baseball knows no boundaries geographically or culturally. This story isn’t about the names above or about the waves of Cuban players that have reached the majors. This story is about the Marlins pitching phenom Jose Fernandez. The 20 year old sensation was drafted in the first round two years ago straight from Alonso High School in Tampa, FL. He came to this country at the age of 15 after three other failed attempts to escape the communist controlled island and a prison term.
For those of you, who do not know about Cuba, let me try to paint as good a picture as I can. The people of the island don’t have enough money to get groceries. There is no such thing as food stamps and the entire nation is poverty stricken. Social classes don’t exist, you’re either part of the “revolution” or you are imprisoned. Fernandez appeared earlier on The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz (Dan LeBatard can be heard Mon-Fri 3-7p on 790AM and 104.3FM in the Miami media market) to recount some of the stories of his youth entering this country. Fernandez told Dan and Stu that when he first came to a restaurant in the states he had never had soda before. Imagine, never having a can of coke. So when he asked his step father if he could have another, they gave him a refill. Imagine not knowing what a refill is! That is an everyday truth to people from the island.
According to Fernandez’s story on the radio, not knowing the language proved to be problematic at school until he was able to pick up a ball and a bat. He mentioned that he was clocked at 93 mph and took three swings at tryouts, two of them clearing the fence. Fernandez earned a spot on the team and led his high school to a Florida 6A championship in two out of three years. He caught the eye of almost every major league scout as a senior going 13-1 with a 2.35 ERA. Oh by the way, add two no-hitters to those stats.
With those kinds of stats, he could’ve gone to any college baseball power house in the country. Fernandez accepted a scholarship offer with the University of South Florida. However, that was until the Marlins called with the 14th pick in 2011. Following a $2 million signing bonus he was assigned to the Jamestown Jammers of the New York-Penn League (A). At the age of 18 he started one game, didn’t get out of the 3rd inning and gave up 5 runs. Well, that couldn’t have been a great start.
Fernandez rebounded with a strong 2012 campaign, splitting time between A and A+. Fernandez pitched to a tune of 14-1 over 25 starts, and a miniscule 1.75 ERA. Not impressed yet? He also managed a .925 WHIP and 4.5 K:BB ratio. Marlins brass were so impressed, by spring training of the 2013 campaign he had earned a spot on the rotation over players with more experience like Jacob Turner.
A diamond in the rough, the Marlins haven’t had much to cheer about this year and this kid is putting butts in the seats. The numbers haven’t slowed down yet either. The Marlins are worst in the league in, runs scored, BA, OBP, and SLG. If the young man from Cuba had some run support he could be having a stellar season in the win column. Through 17 starts in his first year in the big leagues, Fernandez sits at 5-5, with a 2.83 ERA, 1.074 WHIP, and a 2.68 K:BB ratio. The baseball reference website has him at 2.2 wins above replacement, on a team that is struggling to win one out of every three games. He is 19th in the league in ERA, 17th in WHIP, and 34th in WAR (amongst pitchers).
The young man from Cuba has made a name for himself just 3 months into his first year in the majors and the sky is the limit for him. Miami has a four-pitch, power arm, all-star that can be an ace in their rotation for years to come. Alongside three other young pitchers, Miami has managed to gut their roster and acquire live arms that can easily lift this team to a playoff run in the near future. The question for the fans of this team will always be, for how long will this kid stay in uniform? The answer is, until he becomes too expensive for a franchise that has constantly let down the fans. However, it never hurts knowing that the whole city of Miami loves you every 5th day because of where you came from, your story, and the promise of the future. I’m not sure that he will ever be as beloved as Dwyane Wade or Lebron James, but if Jose Fernandez can keep this blistering pace, we will see many more #16 Marlins jerseys down Calle Ocho.
All stats were taken from baseball-reference.com and I do not own them by any means nor did I compute them by myself. Omar Moubayed is an alumni from Florida International University in Miami, FL with a B.A. in Economics. You can reach Omar at @Moubayed11 on twitter.