The Marlins have a player that very few teams have. They have a top 5 young pitcher who has the ability to become something very special in the future. Many teams have quality players, even great players. Most of those players tend to have a recognizable ceiling that they may be able to attain someday. With Jose Fernandez, that ceiling is extraordinarily high.
Fernandez turned in what could arguably be the best rookie pitching season ever, and the best pitching season for a 20-year-old since Dwight Gooden. Fernandez’s fastball is excellent, but his off-speed pitches are what really set him apart. The movement that he gets on his breaking pitches are unbelievable at times.
As a matter of fact, Fernandez’s movement on his breaking pitches remind me of Washington Nationals‘ pitcher Stephen Strasburg. While I am not aware of Strasburg’s curve ball getting an awesome nickname like “the defector”, he is still able to generate so much movement that it is difficult for him to even control at times.
Strasburg’s short career is the best recent example that I can find for a pitcher with that much ability to make hitters miss. Strasburg burst onto the scene in 2010 striking out an absurd 12.2 batters per nine innings. Being a late season call-up, he was only able to pitch 68 innings before the season was over. Coming into 2011, Strasburg was the ace of the Nationals. Washington had put some serious expectations on his shoulders, and after a disappointing 5 games, it was revealed that Strasburg would need to undergo Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Strasburg was 22-years-old.
There are obvious differences between Fernandez and Strasburg. For one, Strasburg has always struggled with replicating his delivery pitch after pitch, which can create additional stress on the arm. Fernandez has a very sound delivery. Also, Strasburg did not pitch a full first season, possibly not realizing the adjustment that he would have to make after a full offseason of work. Fernandez is much more muscular that Strasburg, who is very lanky and doesn’t have the lower body strength that can take some of the pressure off of the arm.
Even with these differences, there are numerous similarities as well. Jose will enter 2014 as the bona-fide ace of the Marlins, and arguably their best player, much like Strasburg did. While Fernandez was able to start 2013 with low expectations being only 20, 2014 will afford him no such luxury. If he is not careful that added pressure can cause him to overthrow, resulting in injuries.
The natural progression for any competitive human being is to constantly get better. Fernandez will naturally place expectations on himself that will require him to submit a season that tops 2013. That is likely not realistic. A slightly regressive season is much more likely and a real concern I have is how he will handle adversity when he struggles. If pressing, it can cause injury.
The Marlins have already said that they will again limit Fernandez’s innings pitched, which I anticipate will be around 195. They need to be particularly careful that the expectations that are naturally going to fall to Fernandez, don’t cause him to injure himself trying to live up to those ridiculously high standards. The most important thing that they can do is educate Fernandez on the potential hazards that could arise in 2014. As long as Fernandez is aware, I expect him to submit a year that is all-star worthy yet again.