St. Louis Cardinals: Should the Cards call up pitcher Junior Fernandez?
Jacob Shafer of Bleacher Report named St. Louis Cardinals right-handed pitching prospect, Junior Fernandez, as one of the impact prospects who have earned a Big League ASAP call up. Is Fernandez, currently at AA, ready and will the Cardinals call him up before the September roster expansions?
Springfield Cardinals’ 22-year old right-handed pitching prospect, Junior Fernandez, has caught the attention of Jacob Shafer of Bleacher Report. In a piece titled “Every Team’s Impact Prospect Who Has Earned an ASAP Big League Call-Up”, Shafer names Fernandez as the prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals organization who has earned an ASAP call up.
Admittedly, this seems premature on the surface. After all, Fernandez has only pitched in 28 games and 41 innings at AA Springfield over parts of two seasons. He currently shows a 3.67 ERA during that time period. Not bad, but is it impressive enough to skip AAA and earn a call up to St. Louis?
Before we answer the above question, let’s take a close look at Junior Fernandez and his minor league career thus far.
A Closer Look at Junior Fernandez
Fernandez was signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in July 2014. He was sent to the Dominican Summer League where he pitched in seven games and had a 5.79 ERA with an 0-5 record in six starts.
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In 2015, Fernandez was sent to the Gulf Coast Cardinals in the Rookie League where he pitched in 11 games and 51 innings, earning a 3.88 ERA. The Cardinals then moved him to Palm Beach and allowed him to get a taste of A+ ball to finish out 2015. He only pitched in two games but had a 1.35 ERA in 6.2 innings.
The 6-1, 180lb Fernandez spent the next two seasons going up and down between Palm Beach and Peoria. In 2016, he had an 8-7 record with a 4.06 ERA in 122 innings between Palm Beach and Peoria. In 2017, Fernandez had a 5-3 record and a 3.69 ERA in 90 innings at Palm Beach.
Fernandez was finally promoted to AA Springfield in 2018 after a strong start in Palm Beach with a 1.86 ERA in nine innings. With the Springfield Cardinals, he was used in the bullpen, had a 5.14 ERA in 16 games and 21 innings. However, due to a bicep issue which caused a late start in 2018, Junior Fernandez only pitched in 30 innings.
Being used primarily in the bullpen seems to fit Fernandez. Consequently, in 2019, with the biceps issues apparently behind him, he again started strong in Palm Beach with a 1.54 ERA in nine games. Earning another promotion to AA Springfield, he currently has a 2.18 ERA in 20 innings.
Fernandez’s Pitching Profile
Junior Fernandez is undersized, but muscular and broad, with a power fastball that reaches the high 90’s which has solid running action. He also has a change-up that flashes above-average separation and sell that’s very effective against lefties.
Fernandez also has a slider that has not quite developed enough to use effectively as of yet. The progress of this pitch will make the difference if he will ever make a starter or just an effective bullpen piece.
Fernandez has lowered his walk ratio at Springfield this season, while at the same time increasing his strikeout ratio. He has seen his BB/9 ratio go down from 6.9 in 2018 to 3.0 in 2019, and his K/9 increase from 7.3 to 12.6 over the same time period.
Is Junior Fernandez Big League Ready?
So back to the original question, should the St. Louis Cardinals call up Junior Fernandez as Jacob Shafer suggests? Is Fernandez ready to make the jump from AA to the majors?
In short, the answer is no, and I don’t expect the Cardinals to call him up this year either.
Junior Fernandez has finally gained some traction in the Cardinals minor league system after spending his first four years jumping around in A Ball. Now fully recovered from his bicep issues of 2018, Fernandez has shown significant improvement at AA Springfield.
We have seen what happens to players who are promoted to the majors before they are ready. As an example, the recent the call up of Genesis Cabrera from Memphis to St. Louis for a role in the rotation. Putting Fernandez in the Cardinal bullpen at this stage in his career, as Shafer suggests, could stymie any development and progress.
If he continues to improve in Springfield, I hope to see Junior Fernandez in Memphis in 2019. If he then does well in Memphis, the next step for the young Dominican should be a Spring Training invite in 2020. Junior Fernandez is not yet ready for the majors, but he’s a prospect to keep an eye on for a possible call up in 2020.