By now, most of you are aware of Miami's plan to toss 20-year-old right-hander Jose Fernandez into the big league fire immediately, this week — well ahead of whatever schedule the rest of us had imagined.
Fernandez is expected to make his MLB debut on Sunday in New York, without ever having appeared in a regular season game above Single-A. The Marlins are dealing with multiple injuries in their rotation — Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi have both hit the DL with shoulder trouble — so the front office has decided it's time to see what Fernandez can do against the best possible competition.
They already know how he treats low-level minor leaguers: He destroys them. Shames them. Ties 'em in knots. Fernandez went 14-1 last season at two Single-A stops, striking out 158 batters and walking just 35 in 134.0 innings. His ERA was 1.75, his WHIP 0.93. The kid reaches the upper-90s on the radar gun with his four-seamer and his breaking stuff is nasty, at least on tape. He's a serious talent, no question. This spring, after the Fish reassigned him to minor league camp in mid-March, he dominated the Double-A hitters he faced.
Still, it's easy to argue that the decision to slot Fernandez in the major league rotation is recklessly aggressive, for both financial and developmental reasons. But fantasy owners can't get caught up in that debate. Instead, we have to decide whether or not to invest in Fernandez, a lightly owned player (22 percent) who ranks among baseball's elite prospects.
For me, this is a relatively easy call. I'd jump on Fernandez almost anywhere I could. There's not much risk to adding him in a mixer, where the free agent pool consistently delivers pitching talent throughout the year. Even if he fails spectacularly — a possibility for any 20-year-old making a multi-level jump — you'll be able to recover. The best-case-scenario with Fernandez is that he'll give you ~150 innings of useful fantasy ratios, with a high K-rate (and maybe four wins, because it's Miami). So I'm in. Sign me up.
Here's the 2013 plan for Fernandez, as described by the team's president of baseball ops, Larry Beinfest (via the Miami Herald):
Beinfest said the organization had already decided to limit Fernandez's innings this season from 150 to 170.
"He will just now get those innings here instead of the minor leagues," Beinfest said. "Individually, per game, he's on an innings and pitch limit. We understand the asset we have, the value of him, his age. And we're going to do whatever we can to do things in his best interest. He's just demonstrated everything — from maturity to physical strength to quality of pitches — that he can do it."
So we're not likely to see many complete games here, and it's not like Fernandez will be swimming in run support. And he could easily reach his full-season innings limit by September, which makes him a tricky fantasy commodity in head-to-head formats. There, Fernandez is a guy you'll want to eventually drag onto the trade block, no matter how well he's pitching, because there's a good chance he won't be available to you in the most important weeks of the season.
I won't try to convince you that the Fernandez ownership experience is going to be smooth all year. Hell, I'm not even sure it's gonna be profitable. Again, he's a 20-year-old pitcher on a terrible team. There's a wide range of plausible outcomes. But if the cost is minimal — let's say you're cutting loose a reliably mid-to-low-tier SP (Buehrle, Vargas, Chen, et al) — then this is an add worth making in advance of Sunday's start.