Friday night brought about a trip to the Jersey Shore, and a beautiful evening at First Energy Park to take in the Lakewood Blue Claws and the Greesboro Grasshoppers, the Phillies and Marlins South Atlantic League affiliates, respectively. I lucked out in attending a game in which Marlins 2011 first-rounder Jose Fernandez was pitching.
I was excited at the opportunity to see Fernandez in person, and he didn't disappoint. The first thing you notice about Fernandez is his size. Being listed at 6'3", 215 lbs. is one thing, but seeing it in person is another. Fernandez isn't just big, he's solid. He isn't built like a 19-year-old. He has already filled out like a man.
What that means for his pitching is that is mid-90's fastball comes free and easy, and he doesn't have to overthrow to ramp up the velocity. The only flaw with Fernandez is that, at times, he still does. The only bad pitches he made all night were when he tried to overthrow. When he kept it in third gear, he cruised through the Lakewood lineup with ease.
Fernandez's best pitch is his two-seamer, which runs hard in on righties and doesn't cost him much in the way of velocity, coming in at 92-94. It's a broken bat waiting to happen against righties. His curveball was good when he didn't try to over throw it. It has good natural break, but it slips out the back of his hand and flies up and in when he tries to spin it too much. He flashed some good changeups in the bullpen, but didn't need too many of them in the game.
Because of Fernandez's solid base, he maintained his velocity into the seventh inning, and looked like he could have easily kept going. His mechanics are clean, and his motion is free and easy.
He will be a major leaguer. I'm comfortable saying that, even at this early stage, and there's no reason to think he won't be a starter, as his secondary pitches have excellent potential. The only question whether he becomes a number three starter or an ace will be the development of his fastball command. If he can harness his desire to overthrow (something that could easily come with maturity), he should develop into an innings-eating borderline ace in the Matt Garza/Yovani Gallardo mold.
Manzanillo got the unenviable task of facing off against Fernandez, and it didn't go well. I was unimpressed by Manzanillo, both in his performance on the night, and the quality of his stuff.
Manzanillo got a decent amount of hype this off-season as a possible rising prospect to watch entering the season. On his night, his fastball sat between 86-88 mph from the left side, and was extremely hitable. It was a two-seamer with some running action, but not enough to create back contact.
He's all arms and legs, and has a lot of moving parts in his motion, which always affects command. He spent most of this Friday night throwing "uphill," which means he was getting his front foot planted and then having to get his upper body up and over it to catch it up, resulting in a lot of pitches up in the zone.
He threw a number of curveballs to left-handed hitters, but only about one out of four was a usable pitch, and even those were below-average on the big league level. It's a one-plane breaker, and he did not command it well at all.
Reports have Manzanillo in the low-90's last season, so perhaps it was an off night. Unfortunately, the command was not there either, and he had trouble repeating his delivery. He has a long, projectable frame that could add some velocity, but he'll have to streamline his mechanics. Ultimately, I don't see him as a starter, but a relief role will require a better breaking ball.