José Fernandez (fernajo02)

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José Delfín Fernández Gómez
(Niño)

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Biographical information[edit]

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Jose Fernandez was a first round pick in the 2011 amateur draft. He made his major league debut less than two years later, won the Rookie of the Year Award, but died tragically in a boating accident at 24.

Fernandez left Cuba when he was 15 years old. He went 13-1 with a 1.35 ERA as a senior at Braulio Alonso High School, striking out 134 and walking 21 in 93 innings. He was timed at 97-98 mph on his fastball and helped his school to two state titles. The Florida Marlins took him with the 15th pick of the 2011 amateur draft. He was the third high school pitcher taken, after Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley. The scout was Brian Kraft. He made his pro debut later that summer, appearing in one game each for the GCL Marlins and the Jamestown Jammers.

In 2012, Fernandez demonstrated why he was so highly regarded, going 7-0, 1.59 in 14 starts for the Greensboro Grasshoppers and 7-1, 1.96 in 11 starts for the Jupiter Hammerheads. In addition to his sparkling record of 14-1, 1.75, he struck out 158 batters in 134 innings. He was named to the World team for the 2012 Futures Game and pitched a scoreless 2nd inning while striking out two batters. He was named the newly renamed Miami Marlins' top prospect by Baseball America after the season. The publication also ranked him the top prospect in both the South Atlantic League and Florida State League (beating out higher draft picks such as Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon). He was second in the minors in ERA (.02 behind Tony Cingrani), third in lowest opponent average (.191, behind Bradley and Justin Wilson) and fourth in K/9 innings (trailing Andrew Chafin, Dan Straily and Trevor Bauer).

He did not endear himself to management when, invited to the major league team's spring training in 2013, he beaned All-Star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton with a fastball during an intrasquad game on February 20th. Fortunately, Stanton did not suffer any serious injury. When not plunking teammates, Fernandez was so impressive that when the Marlins had to re-shape their starting rotation on the eve of Opening Day, after projected starters Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez both went on the disabled list with shoulder injuries, Fernandez was added to the 25-man roster as the team's fifth starter. The Marlins were heavily criticized at the time for rushing their top prospect to the major leagues, but it proved to be the right decision, as the youngster was mature well beyond his years and more than ready to face the music.

He made his debut in a start against the New York Mets on April 8th and set a Marlins record with 8 strikeouts in his first appearance. He retired the first 10 batters he faced, only giving up his first hit, to Daniel Murphy, in the 4th inning, and allowed only 1 run on 3 hits and a walk in 5 innings. He lost a chance at his first big league win when the Mets rallied for two runs against Steve Cishek in the bottom of the 9th, winning, 4-3. He was only the 7th starter aged 21 or under to strike out 8 or more in his debut since 1916, the last having been high school phenom David Clyde with the Texas Rangers in 1973. He explained his lack of nerves thus: "The only thing I'm scared of are roller coasters and snakes. Everything else, after that, I'm good about. Those two things, I don't like." On April 18th, he faced Tony Cingrani, a fellow prospect he had often been compared to during his minor league apprenticeship, as Cingrani was making his first career start for the Cincinnati Reds, while it was Fernandez's third. Cingrani got the best of that matchup, as he gave up only a run in five innings while Jose was roughed up for 5 runs in 4 innings as the Marlins lost, 11-1; he was charged with the loss for his first career decision. On May 4th, he got his first career win with his best effort so far: he limited the Philadelphia Phillies to one hit and no runs in 7 innings; Mike Dunn and Cishek added a hitless inning each for a combined 2-0 one-hit shutout. He had another great start on June 14th, recording 10 strikeouts for the first time in beating the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-4, giving up only two earned runs in 7 innings to improve to 4-3 on the year. He matched that on July 1st, with another 10 strikeouts and allowing only 2 hits in 8 scoreless innings in beating the Padres, 4-0.

On July 6th, he was named the Marlins' sole representative to the 2013 All-Star Game, beating out the Baltimore Orioles' Manny Machado by a few weeks for the title of youngest All-Star that year. He pitched a scoreless inning in the Midsummer Classic in the NL's 3-0 loss, relieving Cliff Lee in the 6th and fanning Dustin Pedroia, getting Miguel Cabrera to pop out then striking out Chris Davis. Fellow Cuban native Aroldis Chapman relieved him in the 7th. He only got better as the season advanced. On August 2nd, he struck out 14 batters, after having piled up 13 Ks in his previous start, in 8 innings in a 10-0 win over the Cleveland Indians. The win improved his record to 8-5 and he was the first pitcher to record at least 13 strikeouts in consecutive starts since Randy Johnson in 2004, and the first rookie to do so since Kerry Wood in 1998. He was named the National League's Rookie of the Month for July on the strength of a 3-1 record, 40 strikeouts and a 2.06 ERA in 35 innings. He repeated as Rookie of the Month in August, when he went 3-1 and held opponents to a .158 batting average, lowest in the major leagues, while leading NL hurlers with 49 strikeouts. The league's second-youngest player, he finished at 12-6, 2.19 with 187 K and only 111 hits allowed in 172 2/3 innings. He was second in the league in ERA behind Clayton Kershaw, third in WHIP (behind Kershaw and Matt Harvey), had the lowest H/9, was second to A.J. Burnett in K rate and was second to Kershaw in ERA+. He was an easy pick to win the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year Award, getting 26 first-place votes to 4 for fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig.

Fernandez had more good news after his outstanding rookie season, this time on the personal side, when his grandmother Olga visited him for the first time since he had left Cuba with his mother as a teenager. His grandmother had raised him while his single mother was working a full-time job in Cuba. The Marlins' brass, starting with owner Jeffrey Loria, had used their influence to ensure that Olga received a visitor's visa. Being very conscious of his roots, Fernandez had immediately used his newfound fame to do some good in Miami, buying tickets for youngsters from underprivileged neighborhoods and meeting with them in the dugout before games, and giving the money from his Rookie of the Year Award for a local cancer charity named after a young Marlins fan who had lost her fight against the disease during the season.

He was the Marlins' Opening Day starter in 2014, becoming the youngest pitcher to receive the honor since Dwight Gooden had been the New York Mets' Opening Day starter in 1986. Before a record-setting crowd of 37,116 at Marlins Park on March 31st, he started the year with a flourish, giving up a single run - a solo home by Carlos Gonzalez - and striking out 9 in beating the Colorado Rockies, 10-1. On April 22nd, he matched his career high with 14 strikeouts over 8 shutout innings in beating the Atlanta Braves, 1-0, with the help of Cishek. He was matched against another youngster, Alex Wood, that day, and the two met again on April 29th, with Fernandez coming out on top this time as well, as he tossed 8 shutout innings in a 9-0 win. He was now undefeated in his first 19 career starts at home, two behind David Palmer who had gone 21 starts before suffering his first loss as a starter at home. He finished April with a record of 4-1, 1.59 and was named the National League's Pitcher of the Month. His season ended early, however, as the Marlins placed him on the disabled list on May 12th with an elbow sprain, with Tommy John surgery the result. He was 4-2, 2.44 in 8 starts.

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Fernandez's return to the major leagues on July 2, 2015 was a successful one as he went 6 innings and hit a home run in defeating the San Francisco Giants, 5-4. In his next start on July 9th, he defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 2-0, while pitching 7 innings at home. The win tied him with Johnny Allen for the most consecutive wins at home to begin a career (14) and also lowered his career ERA at Marlins Park to an unbelievable 1.17. He complained of shoulder stiffness after making a start against the Atlanta Braves on August 7th and the Marlins decided not to take any risks, placing him on the disabled list. He was 4-0, 2.30 in 7 starts, proving that he had made it back to where he had been before Tommy John surgery. When he returned on September 12th, he defeated the Nationals, 2-0, to improve his career mark to 16-0 at home; Johnny Allen and LaMarr Hoyt were the only two other pitchers since 1900 to begin their career with 16 straight wins in their home ballpark. He also increased his record for undefeated home starts to 25, during which his ERA was a sparkling 1.11. He set a new record with his 17th win without a loss at home on September 25th, even though he gave up 4 runs to the Braves in the 1st inning and a career-high 6 earned runs in 5 innings, but his teammates picked him up, and he ended up a 12-11 winner. He finished the season at 6-1, 2.92 in 11 starts.

His record streak of winning starts at home ended in his first appearance of the 2016 season, when he lost to the Detroit Tigers, 7-3, on April 6th. On July 1st, he made the first pinch-hitting appearance of his career against the Atlanta Braves, and he drove in the go-ahead run with a two-run double in the 12th inning. The Marlins had run out of available position players when Nick Wittgren's spot came up in a crucial situation, and manager Don Mattingly called on his best-hitting starting pitcher, a move that paid off big time. He returned to the All-Star team that year after another solid first half.

On the morning of September 25th, tragic news emerged, as it was learned that Fernandez had died earlier that morning in a boating accident in Miami Beach, FL, Miami-Dade County authorities having been advised of the accident at 3 a.m. A boat in which he and two friends, Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, were riding was crashed upside down into rocks, killing all three occupants. The boat had apparently hit a jetty at significant speed. Police said that neither alcohol nor drugs were involved in the accident. Fernandez left behind a pregnant girlfriend. He had made his final appearance on September 20th, another brilliant start in which he pitched 8 scoreless innings to defeat the Washington Nationals, 1-0. His record on the season was 16-8, 2.86, with 253 strikeouts, the second-highest total in the majors at the time of his passing. The game between the Marlins and Atlanta Braves scheduled for that day was cancelled in mourning for the young star. The Marlins announced the following day that Fernandez's uniform number 16 would be immediately retired in his honor. On November 9th, he received a posthumous honor, being named the National League Comeback Player of the Year.

According to toxicology reports performed on Fernandez's body and made public on October 29th, he was legally drunk and had consumed cocaine at the time of his death, although it was not clear which of the three friends was steering the boat at the time of the incident. The families of the two young men who died with Fernandez sued his estate for $2 million each. On March 16, 2017, the report of the investigators appointed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission became public; it indicated that Fernandez was piloting the boat when it crashed, and that it was traveling at an excessive speed in a dangerous area of Miami harbor, while Fernandez was impaired because of alcohol. On April 3, 2018, an attorney hired on his behalf made a legal filing alleging he was unfairly blamed for the crash based on minimal evidence, a determination that had a significant impact on the civil lawsuit filed by his fellow passengers. The suit would be settled on July 31, 2018 for an undisclosed sum.

Growing up in Santa Clara, Villa Clara, he was a neighbor and friend of future major leaguer Aledmys Diaz. The two were teammates on the National League squad at the 2016 All-Star Game, after having both defected from Cuba at different times.

Originally, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria had chosen to pay tribute to Fernandez by encasing his locker at Marlins Park in glass. He also had plans to erect a statue in his likeness. Following the sale of the team after the 2017 season, the new owners decided instead to have a plaque in his honor installed on the plaza at Marlins Park, next to one in honor of long-time Marlins Spanish-language broadcaster Felo Ramírez.

Sources: MLB.com, 2013 Baseball Almanac

Notable Achievements[edit]


NL Rookie of the Year
2012 2013 2014
Bryce Harper Jose Fernandez Jacob deGrom

Further Reading[edit]

  • Ted Berg: "Marlins try to move on in first camp without Jose Fernandez: 'He loved so hard; he cared so much.'", "For the Win!", USA Today Sports, February 14, 2017. [1]
  • Anthony Castrovince: "Fernandez's life a tale of the American Dream", mlb.com, September 25, 2016. [2]
  • Joe Frisaro: "Fernandez wins NL Rookie of the Year Award", mlb.com, November 11, 2013. [3]
  • Joe Frisaro: "Beloved star Fernandez dies in tragic accident", mlb.com, September 25, 2016. [4]
  • Joe Frisaro: "Fernandez named NL Comeback Player by peers: Late Marlins ace honored with Players Choice Award", mlb.com, November 9, 2016. [5]
  • Jorge L. Ortiz: "Jose Fernandez's passion, appeal a big loss for Major League Baseball", USA Today Sports, September 25, 2016. [6]
  • Mike Oz: "Marlins star Jose Fernandez dies in boating accident at 24", Yahoo.com, September 25, 2016. [7]

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