21. Vince Fernandez (295 points, 26 ballots)
From his relatively humble beginnings as a bat-first corner outfield prospect drafted in the 10th round, Vince Fernandez knew he would need to distinguish himself at the plate to make a case for a 40 man roster opportunity. After three straight years of mashing, first at rookie ball then at Low A and then High A, the 23-year-old enters 2019 in contention for one of those spots. If Fernandez can continue his batting success in Double-A, he may well secure one, even as a player with extreme Three True Outcome (TTO) tendencies.
The lefty-hitting, righty-throwing outfielder entered 2018 having posted a 121 wRC+ line in rookie ball, followed by a 135 wRC+ line in Low A. In 2018, Fernandez bettered those numbers in High A with Lancaster. In 499 plate appearances, Fernandez slugged his way to a 24 homer, 57 extra base hit performance and a .265/.370/.532 overall line, good for a 140 wRC+. Of course, a heavy dose of context needs to be applied here.
Fernandez was only slightly younger than league average (most top prospects are markedly younger than average), he struck out in over a third of his PAs (34.5%), and he played in one of the friendliest hitting environments in the minors (both the California League generally and Lancaster specifically). To wit, at home the 6’4” swatter mashed the ball to the tune of .318/.426/.702 with 37 extra base hits (18 HR) while on the road he hit a pedestrian .218/.321/.382. He also displayed a profound platoon split, posting a .973 OPS against right-handers vs. a .667 OPS against southpaws. Fernandez represents the direction baseball seems to be going offensively, with a majority of his PAs ending in a homer (5%), walk (13%), or strikeout (34%).
Baseball Census posted some video of Fernandez from April 2018:
Though Fernandez has enough raw power to hit at least 20 homers per season, he’ll have to tone down his approach at the plate to get there. His left-handed swing is relatively sound but he’s overly aggressive, resulting in a 29 percent strikeout rate last year. He has remained productive in 2018 at high Class A Lancaster, perhaps the best hitting environment in the Minors, but his all-out mentality may lead to struggles at higher levels.
Fernandez possesses average speed out of the box, is a little quicker once he gets going and can steal an occasional base. He has enough arm strength to play right field, though he spent much of 2017 in left in deference to teammate Willie Abreu.
The tools grades in that evaluation peg Fernandez from 50-55 in every tool except the most important one, hitting (40).
FanGraphs ranked him 18th in the organization with a 40 FV in May:
Fernandez was one of the options available to Texas as the PTNBL in the Jonathan Lucroy trade. He’s much like [Sam] Hilliard, just a few levels behind him, and has enough power and patience to counteract otherwise concerning rates of contact.
Most notably, Fernandez was tagged with 60 raw power and a 50 arm in that report.
As mentioned above, Fernandez has hit quite well thus far as a professional, but he’s done it in a favorable environment, using a risky all-out strategy that historically has been much less successful for all but the best prospects at higher levels. The corner outfield defensive profile combined with the risks presented by the offensive profile, the favorable context Fernandez has enjoyed so far, and the fact that the Rockies didn’t promote him mid-year in 2018 when he was mashing have engendered caution with me when reviewing the profile.
I ranked Fernandez 25th on my personal ballot with a 35+ future value designation as a player who, if he makes the big leagues, would likely be limited to a platoon role. We’ll see if Fernandez can maintain his prospect course and earn that 40 man roster slot in 2019 at Double-A, then differentiate himself from several similar outfield prospects in the Rockies system.