Marlins drafted Jose Fernandez a decade ago

Marlins drafted Jose Fernandez a decade ago


Stan Meek, who ran the 2011 Marlins’ MLB Draft, takes us back to when the Marlins picked the late Jose Fernandez in the first round

By Joe Frisaro @ManOn2nd

“A generational player.”

You don’t hear the phrase too often, because it’s attributed only to the “best of the best.”

Since I began covering the Marlins in 2002, from the numerous insiders and evaluators I’ve spoken with, just three players were considered potential “generational” talents before they appeared in their first big-league game: Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez.

It’s not surprising that these three each made their big league debuts at age 20.

Latest MO2 podcast. Stan Meek provides insights to past Marlins’ Drafts, including the 2011 pick of Jose Fernandez

Cabrera, a Venezuelan native, was an international free agent signing, who helped the Marlins win the 2003 World Series. A multiple AL MVP with the Tigers, Cabrera is one of the best hitters of his era, and he already has Hall of Fame credentials.

Stanton, a second-round steal in the 2007 MLB Draft, is blessed with “generational power,” and he’s the lone MVP in Marlins’ history. Now with the Yankees, his career has been mired with injuries. When healthy, he’s among the most feared hitters in the sport.

Fernandez’s story of triumph and tragedy is among the most emotional in Marlins’ history.

A dominant pitcher filled with so much passion and emotion, Fernandez was the complete package. He had a dominant fastball, slider and changeup, and was as much fun to watch at the plate as on the mound.

The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year, Fernandez was a two-time All-Star, and rising star at the time of his death in a boating accident on Sept. 25, 2016.

Today, we are reminded again of Fernandez’s legacy, because it’s 10 years since the Marlins selected the hard-throwing right-hander with the big smile in the first round of the MLB Draft.

Exclusive video of Jose Fernandez taken on the back fields during Spring Training years ago (Video by Joe Frisaro)

Tonight, the 2021 MLB Draft takes place, and the Marlins have the 16th overall pick.

For what it’s worth, Fernandez wore No. 16. In the 2011 MLB Draft, the Marlins took Fernandez with the 14th overall pick from Braulio Alonso High School in Tampa, Fla.

Eventually, Fernandez signed for $2 million, and he made a meteoric rise through the Minor Leagues. In 2012, he was at High A Jupiter, and a year later, made Miami’s Opening Day roster.

“About as special a guy as you could ever ask for,” said Stan Meek, the Marlins former vice president of scouting the year Fernandez was Drafted.

Meek oversaw the Marlins’ Drafts for almost two decades. He retired after the 2020 season, and he spoke about Fernandez in the latest MO2 podcast.

“Just a special smile, a special kid, and a special competitor,” Meek said. “I had never seen a guy have more enjoyment playing the game. I guess when you’re that talented, it’s easy to enjoy the game.”

Meek first saw Fernandez pitch in the fall of 2010, in a Perfect Game event in October at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. These are the same fields in which the Marlins conduct their Spring Training.

“He was down there, and threw extremely well,” Meek said. “Then, I went and saw him in early February. We had him on our radar for like a year in advance.”

At the time, Meek wasn’t aware of Fernandez’s full story. He quickly got up to speed.

Fernandez was born in Cuba, and eventually defected to the United States, but only after several failed attempts. He finally escaped and settled into the Tampa area, and pitched at Alonso High School.

“The one question we had early was, is this guy the age he says he is?” Meek said. “Again, I work more off of tools and talent more so than age. When you looked at him, and saw his face, you could tell that he was young.”

Jose Fernandez at 2016 All-Star Game. Gave me two thumbs up when I asked if he would pose for a quick photo. (Photo by Joe Frisaro)

In high school, Fernandez weighed about 240 pounds, Meek remembers.

But his size wasn’t an issue.

“It didn’t bother me, because it looked to me like he was really athletic,” Meek said. “He could swing the bat. I think I saw him twice in the season and he hit a home run both times.”

The Marlins national scout made a couple of trips to Tampa, and Fernandez homered at least once again.

“He could swing the bat,” Meek said. “He could do whatever he wanted to do with a baseball.”

In stature, Fernandez reminded Meek of former big league pitcher, Alex Fernandez.

“Alex was a thicker guy,” Meek said. “Jose, in high school, was probably 240 when we first saw him over there that spring.”

A few years into his pro career, Fernandez picked up bike riding, and began shedding weight. It wasn’t uncommon for him to go more than 100 miles a day in the offseason.

By the time he reported to Spring Training the following year, he was thin.

“He got in really great shape,” Meek said. “I said, ‘What was the deal?’ He looks right at me and goes, ‘I found McDonalds.’ I go, ‘What!’ “

At every level on the mound, Fernandez dominated.

In 2013, when the Marlins’ lost 100 games, Fernandez went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA.

In 2016, he went 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA, and struck out 253 batters in 182 ⅓ innings.

“Through the history of our game, we’ve had guys where, nothing that could stop this guy,” Meek said. “There’s about three types: There is, nothing can make this guy be a good player; nothing can stop this guy from being a great player, and then there’s everybody else in between.

“He was one of those, nothing could stop him from being great. You could have the worst player development situation in the world, it wouldn’t have stopped him. He was just too good.”

Matching his talent was his drive to be the best.

Jose Fernandez was so playful, and enjoyed doing moments like this

Once in Spring Training, Fernandez sought out a highly drafted pitcher to see if he had the stuff to unseat him as the ace of the staff.

“He didn’t know my name, so he always called me, ‘Boss,’ “ Meek said. “ ‘Hey, Boss.’ It was Spring Training, he said, ‘Where was that other pitcher you took this year?’ I want to go see if he could take my job.”

Without naming names, Meek informed Fernandez that the pitching prospect was throwing on a back field.

“So, he goes to the back field and watches him throw,” Meek said. “He comes back to me, and goes, ‘Boss, you better find guys better than that if you’re going to take my job.’ I’m thinking, ‘Gee, Jose. There’s nobody I can take that can take your job.’ “


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