The exciting, inexplicable debut of Jose Fernandez

Al Bello

The Marlins put Jose Fernandez in their rotation to start the season, even though he was skipped over in Double-A and Triple-A. What could they be thinking?

On July 31, 1992, Jim Thome was 1-for-3 with a walk, Omar Vizquel was 2-for-5, and Tim Wakefield pitched a complete game. Also on that day, Jose Fernandez was born. You might think those events are all unrelated, but you'd be … OK, fine, they're all unrelated. But it's a way to point out that Jose Fernandez is really young. Actually, it's a much better way to point out that those other guys are old, which is probably why none of them are still in the majors. Lemme start over.

Jose Fernandez is young. He's also good. The Marlins' top pitching prospect is now the Marlins' top pitcher, at least if Sunday was any guide. Here's his fastball (hover your cursor over the GIF to animate):


And here's his curveball:


Those are absolutely gorgeous pitches. You can see why Baseball America thought enough of him to rank him the second-best pitching prospect in baseball. On the 20-to-80 scouting scale, BA pegged the fastball as a possible 75 -- Kimbrel and Verlander territory. And if you were wondering how he did in the minors ...

Year Age Lev W L ERA G IP H HR BB SO
2011 18 A--Rk 0 1 10.38 2 4.1 5 0 4 7
2012 19 A-A+ 14 1 1.75 25 134.0 89 2 35 158

Wow. Pure dominance. And the thing about th… wait a sec.

Year Age Lg Lev ERA G GS
2011 18 GULF Rk 0.00 1 1
2011 18 NYPL A- 19.29 1 1
2012 19 SALL A 1.59 14 14
2012 19 FLOR A+ 1.96 11 11
2 Seasons 2.02 27 27

Huh. Those letters under the "Level" header are kind of a big deal. Last year, Fernandez was in Class-A, topping out with 11 starts in the Florida State League. Before Sunday's game, he had pitched 27 games for money in his life.

So what would compel the Marlins to take their No. 1 prospect straight from the lower minors? Here are some different possible reactions that a thinkin' fan might have toward the aggressive promotion:

The Marlins are just being pragmatic

If a pitcher is good enough to be in the majors, well, it shouldn't be a big mystery why he gets the call. Those pitches up there? Marlins coaches and executives watched them over and over and over in the spring. They saw him locate and befuddle. They engaged with him, studied his demeanor, and figured he was ready.

Besides, if you're of the mind that pitchers only have so many pitches in their arm, only a cynical money-grubber would keep a majors-ready pitcher down in the minors to delay his service time. And you know what really gets the Marlins' dander up, right? Cynical money-grubbers. They just want to put the best team on the field.

There's a compelling argument that, of the scores and scores of pitchers in the Marlins' organization, Fernandez is one of the five best.

The Marlins are just trying to win a public relations game for once

Or maybe team is secondary, and the primary focus is anything resulting in good publicity for a change. From Ozzie Guillen making ill-advised comments to the shady stadium deal to the surprising fire sale, the Marlins have been an unwatchable TLC show for the last year. Anything -- anything at all -- to get the attention away from that would be welcome. Hotshot rookies are always a good angle.

Except this isn't just any rookie. This is a Cuban-American, a kid who defected as a teenager. And if you wondered if the Marlins' announcers were going to touch on that, watch this cut of Fernandez's highlights from Sunday. Here's the sampling of commentary that MLB.com picked up:

"... I was nervous when they shot at me. I won't be nervous facing David Wright."

There's 'The Defector!' The breaking ball!

In fact, he was on the same boat with Kendrys Morales a few years before Fernandez ...

You don't need to know all the context to figure out that Cuba came up a few times. Those quotes were spread over the first two innings. And, with Miami being home to about a million Cuban-Americans, it probably wasn't organically generated banter. The fact that Fernandez is Cuban makes him even more marketable than the typical phenom pitcher. If you could build a distraction in a lab for the Marlins, it would look kind of like Fernandez.

Who cares? All I know is that I can't wait for the Fernandez trade rumors in five years

Because a 20-year-old in the majors now means a 26-year-old free agent looking for a crazy contract. The Marlins don't do crazy contracts. They do crazy prospects-for-vets deals. And in a few years, the odds are at least decent that teams are going to be tripping over themselves to offer A-ballers and five-tool teenagers for Fernandez.

A lot can happen in five years, of course. Maybe the Marlins hang on to Giancarlo Stanton and build around him. Five years ago at this time, the Rays were better known as a franchise that had never lost fewer than 91 games in a season. Predicting that Fernandez will go the way of Miguel Cabrera is premature.

But while I'll grant that the Marlins might have a use for Fernandez in three to five years, they're terrible now. Just dismal. And the potential bright spot of Fernandez is a reward that doesn't seem worth the risk of losing him early. It's not like he spent last year in Triple-A, knocking on the door all summer. He was on a relatively aggressive path for a high-school draftee to begin with, and he was still in Class-A.

You know, there's a strong possibility that Fernandez has never had more than three or four bad pitching performances in his life. Probably not two in a row, anyway. What happens if he struggles? No one knows yet, but skipping him over the upper minors seems like a great way to find out.

As a baseball fan who doesn't really care about the fate of the Marlins, though, I'm all for the wacky decision. He's a 20-year-old with a 97-mph fastball and a tight curve. Baseball can always use more of those. It might end up costing the Marlins millions later on, but it makes baseball more fun in 2013. So, hey, knock yourself out, Marlins. Surely you have it all figured out ... I mean, probably ...


More from Baseball Nation:

Getting Vlad back to the majors

The Designated Hitter is coming ... and I don’t care.

There’s no word for "pitch count" in Japan

The best all-time designated hitters

Who is baseball’s most valuable pitcher?

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