For my first returning post, I’ll give a brief account of the recent development of my adoration of Marlins top prospect Jose Fernandez.
(Image courtesy of MiLB.com)
About a year ago, my boyfriend Matt (then an intern with The Miami Herald) met Jose, his father and his agent at Alonso High School in Tampa to observe his workout, watch him throw a couple pitches and interview him for a short feature for the Herald. I stayed at our Clearwater hotel while Matt ventured out for a morning with Jose Fernandez, but when Matt returned, I heard all about the Cuban native’s multiple attempts to defect from his home country. I heard about his short stint in Cuban jail. Heavy topics — the kid’s only 19! But I also heard about Jose arriving and eating a fast-food sandwich for breakfast and referring to himself as a “bull”…topics seemingly more appropriate for a maturing teen. When Matt interviewed him, Jose had yet to sign with the Marlins. He and his agent were still playing the money game, waiting to see what the Marlins would offer before deciding whether he would head off to school or would become the newest addition to the Marlins’ farm. Obviously, he did the latter. And now, a year later, I’ll bet the Marlins are quite thrilled he did.
I’m a sucker for a good story. I loved Jose Fernandez just a little bit before I’d ever seen him pitch. Then, a month ago, on June 16, I went with a friend to a low A Greensboro Grasshoppers game. I currently live in North Carolina and was headed that direction for a teaching conference. A friend and I went early to see Jose pitch. I was floored. Stunned. Awestruck. Whatever word you want to pull out, I was it. His fastball averaged 96 mph, and he touched 98 a handful of times. He walked one batter and struck out 11, about half on one of the most beautiful curveballs I’ve ever seen. Sure, he let up a few hits (including one home run off a 97 mph fastball), but when it came down to it…Jose Fernandez was dominant. At the end of his eight-inning, 102-pitch outing, he sort of rolled his shoulders forward, clinched his fists and powered off the mound. He paused for a moment to throw a kiss up to the sky (I guess he’s a religious dude, too), then resumed his domineering stance. He reminded me of some kind of animal. An animal that’s crazy strong with a determined mentality and intimidating nostril flare. Oh, could it be the animal Jose Fernandez referred to himself as a year ago? He’s a BULL. That night, I nicknamed him El Toro and decided he’s my new favorite prospect. He’s with the Marlins, but I don’t much care. I’ve never enjoyed watching a pitcher quite as much as I enjoy watching him. I left Greensboro wishing I’d be able to see his next start.
But then, I turned super crazy lucky. El Toro was promoted to high A Jupiter, Fla. (the mighty Hammerheads) shortly after I saw him in North Carolina. And guess where my family lives and I was headed for a chunk of my summer break? You guessed it: the east coast of Florida. A few days after I got a wisdom tooth pulled (ouch), I went with my brother Alex to Jupiter to see El Toro. Matt had alerted me to the fact that he’d be pitching that night, so Alex and I made the 1.5-hour drive south. It was his first start at a higher level, and at first he didn’t look quite the same as when I’d seen him in Greensboro. His fastball velocity was down a little (avg. 94-95) and guys grabbed hits (and runs) off him here and there. But in his last two innings (the 4th and 5th), El Toro returned to form. The 4th and 5th were 10- and 9-pitch innings, respectively. In the 4th, he struck out two batters with his breaking ball (one swinging and one looking). Sandwiched in-between the two strikeouts was a flyout to left on a 97 mph fastball. Then in the 5th, two straight batters grounded out (to short and second, respectively), before El Toro induced a flyout to center on a first-pitch fastball. He had only thrown 64 pitches to that point, but I guess they’ve got him on a pitch count (or innings count, considering he’s gone 5 his first two starts with Jupiter). Unfortunately, Alex had been waiting in line for dollar dogs for about 45 minutes at that point and returned to our seats immediately after El Toro was finished for the game, so I had nobody to share the glory with. I told him all about it when he got back with our dogs, but he didn’t see it with his own eyes…I’ll have to take him to another game.
But that’s not all. Though Matt and I were at a Clearwater-Brevard County game (Phillies and Brewers FSL affiliates, respectively) during the Futures Game and are planning on watching the game soon on ESPN3, El Toro apparently rocked it out there, too, striking out two batters in his one inning. He cranked up the heat and threw a 97-99 mph fastball to impress. It evidently worked, as plenty of talent evaluators have said he was the most impressive pitcher in the event. This showing was after Baseball America had ranked El Toro No. 8 in their Midseason Top 50 Prospects List: http://www.baseballamerica.com/blog/prospects/2012/07/midseason-top-50-prospects-list-2/
Suffice it to say, I’m in prospect love. I can’t wait to see/hear more of El Toro in the future. He’s so good that Matt and I may make a day-long trip OUT OF Key West to Jupiter during our vacation to see him pitch. That’d be 10 hours of total driving for a 3-hour game (probably 2 or less of which El Toro will actually pitch), but I’d say he’s worth it.