Julian Fernández has a minor league ERA of 2.61 this year. He hasn’t given up a run in his last 13 minor league appearances.
His Triple-A ERA is literally perfect.
Julian Fernández - 2021
Let’s call it how it is: since the July 30 trade deadline, Colorado relievers have posted the third-highest ERA (5.26), third-highest xFIP (4.70), and third-worst bWAR (0.4) in all of baseball. The Rockies are 13 games out of the second wild card spot and if it appeared they would catch the Padres, the front office would have likely held on to Mychal Givens at the trade deadline. We don’t know how much gas is left in the tank for 36-year-old Daniel Bard or 33-year-old Jhoulys Chacín, but we do know that bullpens are volatile and some aging stars have eventually struggled in their latter years with the Rockies bullpen.
Player development can take center stage for these final 43 games, which can make for serious viewing.
What if it got 103 MPH serious?
Oh, that’s just Isotopes pitcher Julian Fernández hitting 103 MPH on the radar gun pic.twitter.com/u74TBPB00r— Albuquerque Isotopes (@ABQTopes) August 9, 2021
You can’t replicate a big league upper deck in spring training—and you can’t always call upon the electric stuff of Julian Fernández to get the people all fired up down the stretch. Pair that with his dominant body of work this year, and the Rockies can jump-start the bullpen in an otherwise underwhelming time.
It’s time to give Fernández the big league experience he deserves. At the very least, it’s time to get some younger arms comfortable for the unknowns ahead.
The hard-earned, anticipated debut
The right-handed Fernández made his professional debut in 2013, as a 17-year-old pitching for the Rockies’ squad in the Dominican Summer League. Fernández pitched 62 career innings for the Dominican affiliate, the most out of all minor league teams he’s thrown for. It wasn’t until 2016 that he would move stateside for routine minor league work.
He tossed 23 innings in 2016, all with Low-A Boise. He tossed 58 innings in 2017, all with High-A Asheville. Fernández was then picked up by the San Francisco Giants in the Rule 5 Draft, as the Rockies did not protect his roster status after five years as a pro.
Fernández tore his UCL just before the start of the 2018 season, and the timing was abysmal. The minimum one-year recovery from Tommy John surgery meant Opening Day 2019 was all but out of the picture, and the Giants were left to decide whether to protect Fernández’s roster spot without seeing him throw a pitch in their system.
After the 2018 season, the Marlins picked him up off waivers.
A one-year return from Tommy John is optimistic: it can take up to 18 months for many pitchers to regain their previous form. The 18 month mark for Fernández came in September 2019, which was the end of the minor league season that year.
He didn’t spent any time on a Major League roster in the two years after his Rule 5 selection, so Fernández was returned to the Rockies—just in time for the 2020 minor league season to get canceled.
From 2018-2020, he didn’t throw a professional pitch.
One of his best seasons ever has come after not pitching for three years. If Fernández has thrown this well in his first season back, it suggests his maturity is through the roof.
Making the space: A solution is near
The Rockies won’t have to make room for Fernández on their big league roster if they wait two weeks. Rosters will expand to 28 players on September 1.
This isn’t to say the club should wait that long.
The Rockies have already burned Joe Harvey out of the system this year after calling him up and issuing him a DFA before throwing an MLB pitch. A somewhat-similar fate fell on Zac Rosscup after posting a sub-one ERA for much of the Triple-A season, but he finally cracked the big leagues due to COVID protocols and actually pitched in the Show. Rosscup tossed a mere three innings with the Rockies, however, and was promptly returned to Albuquerque.
Sure, Harvey and Rosscup are older players, but they and Fernández have been forced to stare down MLB box scores while the Rockies bullpen has posted some of the more deficient figures in the league. While arms like Ben Bowden, Lucas Gilbreath and Justin Lawrence have found themselves on a Triple-A-to-MLB carousel, the outsiders in the Albuquerque bullpen are left wondering how much better they will have to perform in order to get their chance.
If the Rockies wait until September to call up Fernández, it won’t carry as much significance as if they did it right now. An immediate call-up would send a message through Colorado’s affiliates, showing that top performance by minor league arms will be rewarded.
The remainder of the Rockies’ 2021 slate is a prime opportunity for development anyways.
Let’s say he gets called up: Then what?
It will be interesting to monitor Fernández’s workload if he is to arrive in the big leagues this year. The Rockies have gone without using Jhoulys Chacín for extended periods of time this year, and a similar treatment for Fernández could be bad in the long run. The last thing the Rockies want is to interrupt the momentum from an ongoing 11 1/3-inning scoreless streak.
If called up, Fernández could easily pitch in lower-leverage outings to get his feet wet, much like the strategy that has been used for Ashton Goudeau in recent weeks. Fernández doesn’t have to be a fireman right out of the chute: he can be a surveyor that gains a big league comfort before taking it on full-time, presumably in 2022.
It isn’t practical to expect the world out of Fernández right away, but it’s certainly practical to expect a momentous arrival. The Rockies can go in a lot of different directions with Fernández to finish the season, but a cold and timid approach could be costly for an arm that deserves a debut while he’s hot.
It’s time to see some 103 MPH heaters to close out the season.
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Duane DaPron of Rox Pile gives a full rundown on Connor Joe’s recent performance out of the leadoff spot, furthered on Monday with a home run and a 2-for-4 showing. DaPron also touches on comments by manager Bud Black after Joe’s successful night on Saturday in San Francisco.
The newly-acquired Jake Arrieta is scheduled to close out the three-game set for the Padres, a team with a starting rotation ERA of 4.30 this month. The Dodgers have posted a starting pitcher ERA of 2.90 this month (the best in the league), and they are the team the Padres will look to catch first in the divisional standings.
The NL West-leading Giants have posted a 3.14 ERA among starters this month, the third best mark in baseball.
On the farm
- League-wide off day for Low-A, High-A, Double-A
- Triple-A: Doubleheader
Despite issuing three walks, Ryan Castellani allowed a single run in his four-inning start. Tate Scioneaux, Zac Rosscup and Justin Lawrence combined for three scoreless innings, and that was enough for the Isotopes to preserve a one-run lead.
Albuquerque got on the board with a solo home run by Joshua Fuentes and an RBI double by Ryan Vilade.
Game 2: Sugar Land Skeeters 6, Albuquerque Isotopes 5 (7 innings) (Makeup of 8/15 postponement)
Albuquerque’s offense had a four-run outburst in the top of the fourth, thanks to base hits by Ryan Vilade, Colton Welker and Chris Rabago. The Isotopes would plate one additional run over the remaining eight innings, leaving 13 runners on base.
Julian Fernández pitched the sixth, and extended his scoreless innings streak to 11 1⁄3 frames.
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