Marlins stick with pitching, draft high schooler

Marlins stick with pitching, draft high schooler

MIAMI -- Riding buses in the Minor Leagues will be nothing compared to the hardships Jose Fernandez has already endured in pursuit of his dream.

The 18-year-old senior from Braulio Alonso High School in Tampa has already endured time in prison for attempting to flee from his native Cuba. In his quest to reach the United States, he once jumped off a boat into the Atlantic Ocean to save a woman who turned out to be his mother.

After his freshman season in Cuba, he spent a year in jail for attempting to defect.

Once he made it into the United States, Fernandez settled into Tampa, where he was a standout pitcher the past three years at Alonso High.

On Monday night, Fernandez realized his dream when he was selected by the Marlins with the 14th overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

"If you know anything about his background and the adversity he's gone through, he's got a good work ethic," said Jim Fleming, the Marlins' vice president of player development and scouting. "He wants to be good."

All that Fernandez has already gone through certainly helped answer the Marlins' questions about his character.

"You weigh it a lot," Fleming said of a player's ability to handle life struggles. "For a high school kid, there is a lot of adversity in the Minor Leagues. There are things they have to go through that the normal kid hasn't had to go through. He's faced a lot worse things than anything he's going to face going through our system.

"You have to feel, with the way he's dealt with [his past], it will help with how he deals with the every day ups and downs of baseball."

Building around pitching is the model with which the Marlins are most comfortable. The organization stayed with that formula on Monday night.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Fernandez has a commitment to the University of South Florida, if he doesn't reach agreement with the Marlins by the Aug. 15 signing deadline.

Going with Fernandez also continues the organizational trend to go with a high school player in the first round.

"I came from Cuba, nearly lost my life in the water to live my dream," Fernandez said in a recent interview with Bay News 9.

A power pitcher, Fernandez's fastball has been clocked as high as 97-98 mph, although he mostly pitches in the 93-95 mph range.

Fernandez has high hopes and expectations.

"I want to be better than anyone in MLB baseball," he told Bay News 9. "I want to be the best pitcher ever.

"That's why I look at TV, and I try to pick up things. I try to put it in my mechanics, with my split, my two-seam, my curveball. I see guys out there pitching and having fun; I love that."

Fernandez is the first pitcher the Marlins have taken in the first round since lefty Chad James in 2009. And he is the first Florida-bred prep pitcher the organization has picked in Round 1 since Chris Volstad in 2005.

Fernandez is the lone pick the Marlins had on Monday.

Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft resumes at noon ET Tuesday on MLB.com, where fans will receive exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

The Marlins clearly seek pitching, but they take a stance of drafting the best player available.

"He's a big strong kid with his pitches in place," Fleming said. "His fastball is anywhere from 92-97, and he has what we think is a plus breaking ball.

"He throws strikes. He's got a really good feel to pitch. A lot of times in high school with kids with this kind of stuff, that takes time to develop. He's an absolute strike-thrower."

As a senior, Fernandez was 13-1 with a 2.35 ERA and two no-hitters. His team won the Florida Class 6A state championship during his sophomore and senior seasons.

This year, he struck out 134.

"We really did our homework here," Fleming said. "Did we think he was going to be here? We weren't sure. We thought there was a chance, because a couple of high school pitchers went at the top. We felt there was a chance, but because of how good he is, we never knew."

The Marlins thoroughly watched Fernandez, who grew accustomed to seeing 40-50 scouts every time he pitched.

"You got used to it," Fernandez told Bay News 9.

Since 2006, every top pick except James in 2009 had been a position player.

A year ago, the Marlins went with Christian Yelich, a left-handed-hitting outfielder who is impressing at low Class A Greensboro.

The last college player the Marlins selected in the first round was Brett Sinkbeil in 2006, the same year Chris Coghlan was a compensatory pick out of Ole Miss.

The Marlins have a comfort level drafting and developing prep players.

"There was a taboo about high school pitching back when I first started scouting," Fleming said. "But if you look at everybody's rotation in the big leagues, almost everybody has a couple who were high school pitchers. It's changed. High school pitchers are having much more success.

"Another thing is we feel we do a good job developing guys. A college guy is going to have a lot more innings and wear and tear. Not that it matters, but we feel very comfortable developing players. We feel like that's a strength of ours. To get a high school player, get him in our system, that is something that we like to do."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.