St. Louis Cardinals 2024 Top 30 Prospects List: #30-21

Pete Hansen - Shriners Children's College Classic
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25. RHR Ryan Fernandez (2023 level: Triple-A)

The Cardinals picked Fernandez in the 2023 Rule 5 Draft. I had my eyes on him as a potential Rule 5 pick a year prior when the Cardinals took Wilking Rodriguez. Much like Rodriguez, Fernandez is a hard thrower, averaging over 96 mph on his fastball while topping out at 99.4 mph. He's already one of the hardest throwers in the system, but it's his breaking stuff that really stands out to me.

Ryan Fernandez's highest-used pitch last year was his cutter, and he produced a ridiculous 40.5% whiff rate and 34.5% CSW% on the pitch. The offering aided Fernandez to a nearly 30% strikeout rate across 3 levels in 2023. Not only does the pitch grade out as a plus stuff-wise, but Fernandez has no trouble landing it for a strike. The pitch is standard for a cutter, sitting in the high 80s to low 90s, averaging around 6" of IVB and 2" of horizontal break.

Fernandez's fastball took a step down in 2023 as he averaged around 15 inches of IVB, down about 2" from 2022. Fernandez threw his sinker more than his four-seamer in 2023. His sinker and four-seamer have similar profiles, the former with 1.5 fewer inches of IVB and 3 more inches of run. Both offerings produced very low swing and miss rates despite the velo. I'd like to see him lean into the four-seamer and at least get back to 2022 levels of vertical break.

Fernandez also throws a gyro-slider in the mid-80s, and although he threw it less than 10% of the time, I think it can be his 2nd above-average off-speed offering. The pitch produced an out-of-this-world 69.2% whiff rate (In Statcast-tracked games). Upon his Triple-A call-up, Fernandez had a 1.52 ERA on the season and struck out over 35% of hitters in 23 2/3 innings between Single-A and Double-A.

After allowing just 1 home run in Single-A and Double-A, Fernandez allowed 7 in 30 2/3 innings, which is over 2 per 9 innings. He was still posting great strikeout and walk rates, but the quality of contact took a big step down from what he did prior. Of the 7 home runs Fernandez gave up at Triple-A, 4 were cutters left over the heart of the plate (3 LHB, 1 RHB). While he has no problems controlling the pitch in the strike zone, he must command the pitch better if he wants to succeed in MLB. Fernandez is a solid, hard-throwing relief pitching prospect with quality breaking stuff and the ability to post high strikeout rates and low walk rates.