St. Louis Cardinals Minors: Junior Fernandez’s strong start in the bullpen

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JUPITER, FL - MARCH 11: An announced crowd of over 6,000 fans watch the Atlanta Braves play the St. Louis Cardinals during a spring training baseball game at Roger Dean Stadium on March 11, 2017 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FL - MARCH 11: An announced crowd of over 6,000 fans watch the Atlanta Braves play the St. Louis Cardinals during a spring training baseball game at Roger Dean Stadium on March 11, 2017 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /
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Junior Fernandez is the St. Louis Cardinals number 10 prospect. His reputation has been as a flamethrower without much control, but 2018 is a different story so far.

The difference this year, as opposed to years prior, is that Junior Fernandez is not starting. Prior to the 2018 campaign, the prospect started 52 of his 60 total games. This season, he has eight appearances, all in a relief role. It looks like the St. Louis Cardinals might have figured out the answer for their pitching prospect.

Injury Stint

The reason that Fernandez only has eight appearances is that he spent time on the disabled list. He was placed on the DL on April 5th and was not activated until June 9th. However, he is making the most of the limited time.

Palm Beach Living

Some pitchers are more suited for the bullpen, and thus far Fernandez looks to be one of those pitchers. This could be the way for the 21 year old righty to finally break through the Single A wall.

Fernandez has played five professional seasons, dating back to 2014. All but one have included time playing for Palm Beach. That is where he spent all of last year, and where he has started 2018.

Starter Profile

The story of Fernandez as a starter is written by walks. He has struggled with command of the strike zone, and that has led to some scary walk rates. For the most part, he would be in the upper three’s, or low four’s, with his BB/9. Plus, his xFIP’s would sit over four. That is not ideal for a starting pitcher.

For a pitcher with a lively fastball, his strikeouts were not exactly where they should be. In 2016 and 2017, he was averaging around five strikeouts per nine innings. Fernandez can hit 99 with the fastball, so five seems pretty low.

Sweet Relief

In eight appearances, Fernadez has yet to give up an earned run. He is even a perfect three for three in save opportunities. There just seems to be a level of comfort there, at least with this small sample size.

Taking things a step further, he has 9.2 innings with only two walks. Call it a streak if you want, but he is just getting going from an injury and is showing better control. Even his strikeouts are seeing improvement, as he is up over six with his K/9. Again, small sample size, so take these numbers with a grain of salt.

Bullpen Projection

If this keeps up, the St. Louis Cardinals might have their future closer. Fernandez has a plus plus fastball, and a changeup that compliments it well. He works in a slider, but there are still strides that need to be taken with that pitch. His fastball/changeup combo can be enough to carry him in a relief role.

This could just be a reaction to his injury, but the bullpen seems like his home for the time being. As the cliche goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For a top 10 organizational prospect, the bullpen might seem like a waste. But it certainly is not in this case.

Next: All-Star Voting Conundrum

Future closer, that is my projection. Small sample size, sure, but a guy who has struggled with control is flashing some after an injury and that seems like something to be optimistic about. Maybe closer is shooting too high, but a bullpen role appears to be where he belongs so far in 2018.

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