12. Yanquiel Fernandez (433 points, 24 ballots)
According to scouts, the ball just sounds different coming off Fernandez’s bat. The 20-year-old lefty outfielder (who signed for $295k in 2019 out of Cuba) is well-known for making loud contact, and did a lot of that in 2022 with Low-A Fresno as one of the youngest players in the league. Fernandez hit the ball a ton in his Dominican Summer League debut in 2021 (154 wRC+), then followed that up with a virtuoso hitting performance in 2021’s fall instructs that got him on the radar of national scouts everywhere. Fernandez is lauded for his plus power projection and good feel for hitting, though his below-average speed limits him to the corner outfield positions.
In 2022, Fernandez skipped the complex league entirely and became a mainstay in the Low-A California League at an age that was 2.1 years younger than average. In 523 plate appearances, he displayed his power early and often, launching 21 home runs (third in the league) among his league-leading total of 59 extra-base hits and 109 RBI (and fourth in all of MiLB), 20 RBI clear of second place (and fellow Rockies prospect) Juan Guerrero.
Fernandez had a .284/.340/.507 line (112 wRC+) with virtually no platoon splits, walking 8% and striking out 22% of the time (34% TTO), a change from 11% and 13% respectively in 2021. Defensively, the outfielder appeared only as a DH or primarily in right field, where he made ten errors and seven outfield assists in 90 games there. All told, it’s a strong showing, especially considering the age-to-level context.
Here’s some video of Fernandez hitting in fall instructs in 2021, courtesy of Fangraphs:
Baseball Prospectus ranked Fernandez 8th in their November system rank with a 50 OFP:
Fernandez is your classic right field prospect. He’s projectable with present pop at the plate. There’s plenty of runway to his swing, as he sets up high and wraps a bit, but plus bat speed with good whip allows him to catch up to and lift even better velocity. It’s a power-over-hit profile due to fringe barrel control, but he should make enough hard contact to keep his batting averages in the .260 range. You might prefer your right field prospect to still be playing center field in A-ball. I hear ya. You would definitely prefer your right field prospect to be a better right fielder than Fernandez is right now. His foot speed is fine for a corner, his arm is strong enough for the position. He is just a bit awkward and heavy-footed tracking and closing on balls. Routes and reads can be improved with reps of course, but he needs a fair bit of defensive development in addition to conquering the future challenges he’ll face at the plate.
The power stroke looks like it will play up the ladder, but Fernandez has a ways to go up said ladder, and if he ends up more of a 1B/DH type you will be less enthused about penciling him into the lineup everyday.
Fernandez (right fielder who could hit 25-30 homers) and [Warming] Bernabel (solid third baseman with 20 homer upside and feel for contact) are both potential regulars with well-below-average pitch selection holding them back. They are 20 and 21 years old respectively, so there’s still some time to develop that skill.
Keith Law of the Athletic ranked Fernandez 11th in the system last week:
[Fernandez] struggled earlier in the year with breaking stuff, making adjustments as the year went on, and his second half was a substantial improvement, with a .336/.383/.601 line in the latter half of his season (58 games). He’s a corner outfielder with an 80 arm and the power to profile there as long as his pitch recognition holds up.
In the report accompanying the above video, FanGraphs ranks Fernandez 9th as a 40+ FV prospect (emphasis mine):
[Fernandez] came stateside for instructs and hit a bunch of balls much harder than is typical for a player his age, sizzling balls into the outfield gaps. Fernandez also looked over-eager at the plate and offered at too many non-competitive pitches. His DSL line didn’t have any plate discipline red flags, but strike-throwing in the DSL is so poor that it’s hard not to walk at least 10% of the time.
The ball/strike recognition piece of the puzzle is simply not a thing we really know about right now, but because Fernandez is a corner-only prospect, it’s a very important component of his future. He’s a strapping, broad-shouldered young man with considerable thunder in his hands and a more muscular physique than is typical for a hitter this age, and Fernandez can do real damage without taking out-of-control swings, giving him the look of a dangerous lefty stick with a contact and power blend. He has a much more obvious path toward being a 50 FV prospect or better than most of the other young hitters in this system, but his big league timeline and our inability to truly understand the plate discipline piece of Fernandez’s skill set makes him quite volatile at this stage.
Fernandez has the chance to hit for both average and power from the left side of the plate. Both in the DSL and at instructs last fall, Fernandez showed a knack for barreling up the baseball with hard contact. It’s a small sample, but he’s shown he can turn around premium velocity with plus bat speed while displaying strong strike zone knowledge. He’ll take a walk, work counts and doesn’t strike out much, all while having raw power to all fields.
Strong and physical, Fernandez will hit his way up the ladder. He has a strong arm, but he will be limited to an outfield corner, playing right field almost exclusively during his debut. He reminds some of the Astros’ Yordan Alvarez in terms of his offensive profile as he makes his United States debut this season at age 19.
Clearly Fernandez is being evaluated as a bat-first prospect with limited defensive utility, which lowers his floor considerably, especially if he isn’t able to cut it in the outfield. Furthermore, he’s far away from the big leagues and will need 40-man protection after the 2023 season (I imagine he’ll be at High-A to start).
The good news is the offensive profile is quite exciting, boasting both plus power and decent bat to ball ability so far. That kind of true impact offensive profile helps Fernandez stand out even in a deeper Rockies system. I ranked Fernandez 12th on my ballot with a 40+ FV designation, with a hope that by the mid-season list he’s clearly in the top ten in the organization and a no-brainer 40-man roster addition.