Multiple reports indicate Cuban second baseman Jose Fernandez has left the island and will seek to play in MLB. For those of you Google-stymied by his also-Cuban namesake, his full name is Jose Miguel Fernandez Diaz.
I have Fernandez’s birthday as April 27, 1988, meaning that 2015 will be his age-27 season. He has played played for Matanzas in Serie Nacional since 2007-2008, giving him more than enough experience to meet MLB’s eligibility criteria for unrestricted bonus money.
Back in August, Ben Badler rated Fernandez as the third best player still in Cuba, behind two players who will likely never make an attempt at playing in the majors, making this defection a pretty significant event. While Fernandez has played all over the infield with Matanzas (including significant stints at shortstop) his primary position is second base. Badler has him pegged as an contact-oriented, offense-first guy at the keystone in the bigs.
Jose Fernandez Cuban Stats[table id=3 /] [table id=7 /]
Fernandez is as advertised. I will now arbitrarily place him on a scale that I just made up featuring orthogonol second-baseman archetypes as endpoints.
No strikeouts, lots of walks, and not much power. Being Luis Castillo is not such a bad thing; he produced lots of value during his career. The question, of course, is whether an outstanding plate approach will transfer from Cuba to the majors the way that power seems to. Major League teams have recently paid up big for the power, will they make the same bet on approach?
Of course, the Castillo trajectory isn’t set in stone. If recent history is any guide, Fernandez will show up to workouts having added a surprising amount of muscle, which will intrigue scouts who also saw him play in Cuba. For what it’s worth, Badler thinks he can hit 8-12 homers a year in the Majors, despite totaling only 36 in nearly 600 regular season games in the relatively hitter friendly environs of the island.[table id=8 /]
As is my wont, here are some comparisons to other recent defectors. Shown are the combined stats for each player’s 23- through 25- year old seasons. Walk and strikeout rates are percentage points above or below league average, so positive numbers are good for BB’s, while the opposite is true for K’s.
I will be very interested to see what happens with Fernandez. None of these Cuban “comps” are really even in the same ballpark. Fernandez’s plate approach rates out as much better, and his power is starkly lower. About a decade ago, the stats-loving baseball community (myself included) would collectively hyperventilate about underpowered prospects who were very successful at getting on base in the minor leagues. After a handful of flameouts, I remember Nate Silver writing an article about how PECOTA had systematically overestimated the degree to which that combination of skills translated to the majors. Fernandez’s superlative contact skills probably keep him from being lumped in with that class of prospects, but we shall see.
My Defectometer, a Cuban salary estimator, seems to be broken. It overshot by a ton on Jose Abreu (I thought $90 million was a good over/under), but has been way under ever since. Rusney Castillo blew away my guesses in getting $72.5 from Boston. Yasmany Thomas seems poised to do the same. I’ll predict $60 million, but I have very little confidence in that. If the Cubs do decide to pursue him, the resulting collision with Javier Baez will likely annihilate the Earth.