St. Louis Cardinals: Junior Fernandez will be big in 2020
By Matt Graves
After getting a taste of action in 2019, why is Junior Fernandez a player to watch in 2020 for the bullpen of the St. Louis Cardinals?
Junior Fernandez was a player that seemingly was in prospect news forever. The now 22-year-old was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals at the age of 17 so in some ways, he’s has been in the system forever.
Beginning as a starter, Fernandez ultimately changed to the bullpen in 2018 and has flourished in the Minors ever since. Before being called up in August, Fernandez had a 1.52 ERA over 45 games between A+, AA, AAA. The big change this year for Fernandez was that he figured out how to strike people out and he gave up a combined zero homers in 65.0 minor league innings.
How big was that strikeout jump? Other than a K/9 of 9.8 in 2015, Fernandez struggled to strike people out with that number usually sitting around 6.0-7.0. That’s not bad, but with the stuff that Fernandez has, he should be able to put up the 11.1 K/9 that he did in 2019. This year does look somewhat like an outlier, but for a guy who has been growing and maturing, this year could’ve just been a big step forward.
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In 2019, Fernandez will be a big guy to watch as someone who could step up and get some big innings in the bullpen. Essentially, when the Cardinals cut Dominic Leone last week, they did so (in part) because of how Fernandez looked in his time in the Majors this year.
That performance may not have looked that great with a 5.40 ERA overall, but he only threw 11.1 innings and blew up for four runs once which inflated that. The important numbers to look at though were his 12.3 K/9 and the fact that at the age of 22, he got some experience in the bullpen at the MLB. That K/9 is probably inflated, but it is a great sign moving forward as he gets more experience and matures.
I would expect Fernandez to be the next breakout young reliever that can step up in the bullpen and wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually finds himself in a late-inning role.
The Cardinals have invested a lot of time in Fernandez and they clearly want him to succeed and be a part of the MLB bullpen. With Jordan Hicks continuing to be out and Carlos Martinez moving back into the rotation, there are holes to fill and innings that are going to need to be filled. Fernandez is going to be big in doing that in 2020.