The flamethrowing Cuban defector has wowed major league scouts with his 98-mph fastball and array of pitches. He is 13-1 with a 1.14 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 93 innings this season. Fernandez has committed to South Florida, but is expected to be a first-round pick in next month's draft.Read More Below
Baseball has always reserved a special place for those with a great fastball. Scouts dream about finding the kid with the golden arm, rearing back in his windup before overpowering opponents. Fans rant about watching the next great pitching prodigy, equipped with killer instincts and the ability to bully batters. From Bob Gibson to Nolan Ryan to Randy Johnson, velocity-driven hurlers have been the object of our obsession for decades.
At the high school level, no one embodies that fireballing spirit better than Jose Fernandez.
"I never give up," he said. "When I start something, I just wanna finish."
Fernandez already has the stuff to retire many MLB regulars. He's been clocked at 98 miles an hour, mowing down prep competition as if he were tossing to Little Leaguers. He was the ace of Alonso High's staff during its run to the 2009 Florida class 6A championship. He was named to the 2010 All-American Game. As a senior, he's currently 13-1 with a 1.14 ERA and 134 strikeouts in just 93 innings.
His fastball isn't his only weapon. The 6-foot-5 righthander also boasts a curveball, slider and change-up, keeping hitters from adjusting to his pro-ready heater. Though the rest of his repertoire isn't quite as polished, Fernandez feels comfortable throwing anything his catcher calls.
"I trust all my pitches," he said. "I can throw all the pitches I have whenever I want."
Fernandez went 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two appearances at the WWBA World Championships in October, and earned complete game victories in each of his last three outings. Opponents have all but flailed at his offerings.
His success almost never happened. Fernandez immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba in 2008, arriving via a midnight speedboat with his mother and sister. He struggled to adapt to an entirely new language and culture. Recently, his status as a high school pitcher was even in question, with debate occurring over whether he exhausted a year of eligibility during 2006 in Cuba, an issue that was later resolved during a FHSAA ruling in January.
"I knew I was gonna play," he said. "It's not fair that they did that to me."
On the diamond, he's remained a standout, ignoring distractions while adding to his hype nearing the June 6 MLB draft. He committed to South Florida in April, citing assistant coach Chuck Hernandez's experience working with Cliff Lee and Justin Verlander as his reason for choosing the Bulls. Though he's a projected first-round pick and will likely receive first-round money, Fernandez is undecided if he'll sign by the Aug. 15 deadline.
"Everything depends," he said. "We gotta wait 'till the draft."
Whether on campus or in the minors next year, Fernandez seems poised to keep setting the strike zone ablaze. He's dominated hitters wherever he's toed the rubber, in Cuba, the United States and elsewhere. He has the arm, the mentality and the sensational speed to thrive at the next level.
He also evokes memories of one the game's legendary flamethrowers.
"A lot of people," he said, "say that I look like this guy Roger Clemens."