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Viva El Birdos 2017 Cardinals Top Prospects: #8 Junior Fernandez

He also throws really hard, and he just turned 20.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals-Media Day Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: the red baron has once again written up a very large number of prospects, done a great job on them, and combined them in just a few posts. You can read those posts, including a dozen reports on players who just missed the list by going here. This post contains a write-up of just a single prospect in a perhaps easier to digest form.-CE

#8: Junior Fernandez, RHP

6’0”, 180 lbs; R/R; 2 March 1997

Relevant Stats: 18.8% K (Peoria), 12.5% K (Palm Beach)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Junior Fernandez and Sandy Alcantara are almost inextricably linked right now, and probably will be for awhile, in the minds of Cardinal prospect geeks. Their careers have exactly mirrored each other’s in terms of level so far, and they’ve become the faces of the next great wave of pitching talent heading toward St. Louis. Which one of them you prefer is a matter of taste, although Alcantara’s performance in 2016 probably pushed him ahead for most people.

In Alcantara’s favour is his size, slightly better velocity, and a breaking ball that at least flashes plus at times. On Fernandez’s side of the ledger is greater athleticism, an arm action I tend to like better, superior fastball movement, and one secondary pitch that projects better than anything Alcantara features.

While Alcantara might have the bigger fastball, Fernandez’s heater isn’t exactly chopped liver, featuring velocity in a similar 93-97 range. Where Alcantara’s fastball tends to be a bit straight at times, though, Fernandez generates hard armside run on his that helps him get inside on right-handed hitters and create plenty of weak contact. He doesn’t create a whole lot of plane on the pitch due to his modest stature and a lack of sink, but that running action can be something to behold when he’s on. Considering just the fastballs, I think it’s a wash between the two.

Where the paths diverge — and where the observer will likely find his or her point of emphasis — is in the matter of secondary stuff. Alcantara’s slurve flashes a 60, his changeup a 50. Fernandez, on the other hand, throws a slider that needs a lot of work and is really more of a big cut fastball at this point. He has the arm speed to spin a breaker, without a doubt, but has yet to really show even the potential for a plus breaking ball. What Fernandez has shown, however, is a changeup that every once in awhile looks like a magic trick.

So this is really our point of divergence. We have two pitchers with similarly great fastballs. The one shows two offspeed pitches; one a 60 and the other a potential 50. The other is probably working with a 30 breaking ball right now, but a changeup that will flash 70. So do you prefer the guy who has shown more potentially average or better offerings? Or the guy who has shown two elite pitches and has yet to show much in the way of a third?

Ask me on any given day about Fernandez and Alcantara, and I might flip which I prefer. Today, though, I’ll take the guy with the potential for two elite pitches, even as I have to admit his actual performance in 2016 was not as strong as the other guy. But it’s a very close call, and hopefully I don’t actually have to choose between them as they make their way up the ladder.

Player Comp: Physically, the comp is hard to see, but the high-octance fastball and devastating change combo for Fernandez resembles both the 2013 version of Michael Wacha, and the best version of Trevor Rosenthal. Rosenthal might actually be the better comp, though he’s also shown a greater variety of pitches when called on to start. It’s easy to see a route for Fernandez that takes him into the bullpen; I hope he gets every chance to develop as a starter first, though.

via Baseball America: