Pedro Fernandez is another one of those prospects who may not have star power by his name but has a decently high floor and should be in a major league bullpen at some point in the next few years. I’ve watched Fernandez pitch parts of three seasons at NWA and believe the same thing about him that I believed about Luke Farrell, Alec Mills, and Andrew Triggs. He is a big leaguer at some point, somewhere. Fernandez is not a glamorous guy, but a guy who can and will get major league hitters out. Fernandez has won two pitcher of the week awards in the minors winning the award at Lexington in 2015 and Northwest Arkansas in 2017. Fernandez has also been an All Star in the Southern Atlantic League in 2015 and Texas League in 2017.
Fernandez signed with the Royals on September 2, 2011. The Royals put him in the DSL in 2012 and moved him stateside in 2013 to Arizona. In 2014 he went to full season ball in Lexington where he threw 61 innings. In 2015 Fernandez started at Lexington before moving to Wilmington and threw a combined 110 innings. The next year he started in Wilmington before moving the NWA. At this point, Fernandez was still a starter. In 2017, the Royals moved him to the bullpen full time where he excelled. At the end of the year, he got some time in Omaha where I thought he would stay for good. But surprisingly, the Royals sent him back to NWA to start 2018.
Fernandez doesn’t have much physical projection left as he is 24-years-old and 6’0” already and sitting at 175 pounds. Fernandez can bring the fastball in the mid-90s while pitching in relief. He throws both a 2-seam and 4-seam fastball. He throws a good slider that has good bite and also throws a changeup that is sometimes described as excellent. The CH has arm side run and tumbling action. If you are into tunneling, Fernandez does a very good job tunneling the FB/SL combo as well as the FB/CH combo. The CH is very deceptive, especially when he has really good feel and control for it.
Fernandez typically attacks RHH with his fastballs and sliders. There are a few change ups mixed in. He can expand the strike zone with both his slider and fastball as well when he is ahead. Against LHHs, Fernandez uses the two fastballs and change up most of the time. Sometimes he will throw a back foot slider. When ahead in the count, Fernandez does a very good job using the top half of the strike zone. It’s something he has done more this year and I think this is the reason his GB rate has gone down slightly.
To make the case for his permanent promotion to Omaha, let’s take a look at his AA number from last year and this year. In 2017, Fernandez posted a 2.66 ERA at NWA while striking out 9.1 per 9 innings pitched. He only walked 13 hitters on the year which was 2.3 BB/9. Double-A batters hit .216 against him posting 41 hits in 50.2 innings. Fernandez posted a WHIP of 1.07 and had a ground ball rate of 53%. To me, having a pitcher throwing 95 mph with good secondaries posting these types of numbers merits a promotion. In 2018, Fernandez has posted similar numbers in just a few more innings pitched. Fernandez’s ERA is currently 3.00 in 54.0 innings. He has allowed 54 hits, 18 BBs, and has 41 Ks. The K rate is down from 2017 to 6.8 K/9 but some of this has to do with how he has pitched differently as a starter. In his last start, he never went over 93 mph which means he was trying to save some energy for later in the game. When he is working 95 to 96, there is less room for error from hitters which in turn generates more strikeouts. However, Fernandez is still posting a higher swinging strike rate at 10% this season that he did last season at 9%. Both seasons he has thrown 65% of his pitches for strikes.
Taking a look at hitter splits doesn’t help much in our attempt to figure out why he hasn’t been promoted yet. LHHs this year are hitting .241 which is higher than last year but they are still striking out at 19% of the time and walking at just 8.6%. RHHs this year are hitting .272 and are striking out at a 20% clip while walking just 8.8% of the time.
Fernandez has adapted as a pitcher since the first time I saw him. Now he pitches up in the zone more with his fastball and does not seem to throw as much off speed. He attacks hitters and challenges them to beat him. That being said, I have seen him start guys effectively with off speed and pitch backwards finishing guys with the fastball up. He can attack hitters in a variety of ways and isn’t limited to certain sequences. There is maturity in his approach to pitching.
Fernandez is athletic and fields his position well. He can get over to first base quickly and I’ve never seen him late to cover anywhere. Fernandez has good awareness of the field around him.
Fernandez is a pitcher that easily fits the profile of Rule 5 bullpen guy. I think the Royals will send him to the Arizona Fall League so he can continue to prove that he can get better hitters out. There isn’t really anything left for him to prove in Springdale. Taking all these factors into mind, especially his arsenal of pitches, baseball smarts, and maxed physical growth, it is time to send Fernandez to Omaha for good.