Editor's Note: Red Baron has compiled this year's top prospects in three parts, which can be found by clicking on Part I, Part II, and Part III. The post below is a portion of those massive posts, focusing in on a single prospect at a time, which should make a search of any one prospect easier to find. All of our 2016 prospect coverage and write-ups can be found at the Viva El Birdos 2016 Prospects hub.
#13: Junior Fernandez, RHP
Opening Day Age: 19
2015 Level: Gulf Coast League, High A Palm Beach
Relevant Numbers: 3.87 K/BB in the GCL, 2.21 FIP
So, what's so great about this guy?
This is probably the most aggressive ranking you'll see of Junior Fernandez; as an arm barely seen on U.S. soil I'm going well out on a limb here. And honestly, I've only seen Fernandez throw eleven pitches, thanks to some footage I was passed by a friend, with the understanding that neither the video nor his/her name would see the light of day. Those eleven pitches, though, were electric, to a degree I wish I could better convey.
The pure arm speed Fernandez shows is extraordinary; he's consistently in the upper 90s with his fastball, and there's enough riding life to the pitch I'd feel comfortable with a 70 grade, if not higher. Perhaps even more impressive, though, is the changeup, which I've been told is not even close to consistent yet, but has shown 70 potential as well. There's a slider, too, apparently, but I haven't seen it, and so can't really speak to the quality. Still, the one-two punch of fastball and changeup for Fernandez is as good as any combo in the system, including Alex Reyes' own triple-digit fastball and waterfall curve duo.
Speaking of Reyes, Fernandez actually took a very similar path into the organisation; he was born in the States, but moved to the Dominican Republic in an attempt to get noticed and signed to a professional contract. It seems to have worked, as Fernandez got $400K in 2013. He's a former infielder, as well, meaning there's a similarity to the developmental path of Carlos Martinez also.
Fernandez is so far away from the majors this ranking is incredibly aggressive, but I feel comfortable with it. The arm strength and feel for a changeup are both truly elite at this point; it wouldn't shock me if Fernandez jumped up to near the very top of these lists at this time next year once the industry gets a look at him. For now, though, he can be our indie darling; the 7" split single with just a label name and an email address printed on the sleeve. And then, when he's striking out the world at Double A, we can all say we liked his changeup better in the GCL.
Player Comp: undersized, with elite arm strength and a potentially dominant changeup; Edinson Volquez isn't a bad comp, neither is Yordano Ventura, though it's always a question whether Ventura is throwing a change or a sinker.