Fernández was born in Santa Clara, Cuba and made three unsuccessful attempts at defecting before he was successful in 2008. He enrolled at Braulio Alonso High School in Tampa, Florida and was selected by the Marlins in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft. Fernández made his MLB debut with the Marlins on April 7, 2013. He was named to the 2013 MLB All-Star Game and won the National League (NL) Rookie of the Month Award in July and August. After the season, he won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and finished third in Cy Young Award balloting.
Fernández became the first pitcher in the modern era to win his first 17 career home decisions, as well as go 24–1 in his first 25 home decisions. He was considered to be one of the top pitchers in the MLB at the time of his death.
José Fernández grew up in Santa Clara, Cuba. There, he lived on the same street as, and was friends with, future Major League Baseball (MLB) shortstop Aledmys Díaz. They played for the same youth baseball team, and Díaz’s father and uncle encouraged Fernández’s mother to bring him to the ballpark. Fernández commented that had Díaz’s uncle not been an influence early in his life, he would not have pursued a professional baseball career. As major leaguers, they faced each other for the first time professionally on July 28, 2016. In his first at-bat, Díaz hit a home run off Fernández.
Ramón Jiménez, Fernández’s stepfather, defected from Cuba in 2005, settling in Tampa, Florida. Fernández attempted to defect unsuccessfully three times, with each failed defection attempt followed by a prison term. Fernandez, along with his mother and sister, defected in 2007. On that successful attempt, José’s mother fell overboard when the boat hit turbulent waters, and José had to dive into the water to save his mother’s life.
Knowing Orlando Chinea, a coach who had trained some of Cuba’s top pitchers before he defected from Cuba, lived in the area, Jiménez had his son train with Chinea. He attended Braulio Alonso High School inTampa, Florida. Playing on the high school baseball team, Fernández was part of the Florida Class 6A state champions in his sophomore and senior seasons. Before his senior year in 2011, the Florida High School Athletic Association ruled that Fernández was ineligible, as he entered the ninth grade while in Cuba in 2006 and had therefore exhausted his eligibility. The Cincinnati Reds of Major League Baseball (MLB) were prepared to sign Fernández as an international free agent to a $1.3 million signing bonus. Fernández won an appeal and was declared eligible for his senior year, ending Cincinnati’s pursuit. As a senior, Fernández pitched to a 13–1 win–loss record with a 2.35 earned run average (ERA) and 134 strikeouts. He also threw two no-hitters.
Draft and minor leagues
The Florida Marlins selected Fernández in the first round, with the 14th overall selection, of the 2011 MLB draft. Fernández signed with the Marlins, receiving a $2 million signing bonus. After he signed with the Marlins, he was assigned to the Jamestown Jammers of the Class A-Short Season New York–Penn League.
Pitching for the Greensboro Grasshoppers of the Class A South Atlantic League (SAL) to start the 2012 season, Fernández threw the first six innings of a combined no-hitter. He was twice named the SAL pitcher of the week. Fernández was named to appear in the 2012 All-Star Futures Game. During the season, he was promoted to the Jupiter Hammerheads of the Class A-Advanced Florida State League. He finished the 2012 season with a 14–1 win-loss record, a 1.75 ERA, and 158 strikeouts in 134 innings pitched at Greensboro and Jupiter. He was named the Marlins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
2013 season: Rookie of the Year
Prior to the 2013 season, Baseball America ranked Fernández as the Marlins’ best prospect and the fifth best prospect in all of baseball. The Marlins invited Fernández tospring training but sent him to minor league camp before the season began. However, they chose to add Fernández to their 25-man Opening Day roster, due in part to injuries toNathan Eovaldi and Henderson Álvarez. Also, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria hoped that promoting Fernández would buy him goodwill with the fans, following a fire sale the previous offseason. He was planned to be limited to approximately 150 to 170 innings during the 2013 season in order to protect his development.
The Marlins scheduled his major league debut on April 7 against the New York Mets. In his MLB debut, Fernández pitched five innings, allowing one run on three hits with eight strikeouts. He became the seventh pitcher under the age of 21 to record at least eight strikeouts in his MLB debut since 1916. He impressed in his second start. Despite a rough outing against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 27, Rays’ manager Joe Maddon took to Twitter soon after watching Fernández pitch, saying, “Jose Fernandez might be the best young pitcher I’ve ever seen, at that age. I believe he will go far.”
On July 6, 2013, Fernández was selected to represent the Miami Marlins for the National League All Star team. He pitched a perfect 6th inning in the 2013 All-Star Game in which he struck out Dustin Pedroia, induced Miguel Cabrera to pop up for a flyout and struck Chris Davis out. With this performance, Fernández is one of only three pitchers in the history of the All-Star Game who struck out two batters prior to their 21st birthday for their All-Star debut, the other two being Dwight Gooden and Bob Feller.
Against the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 28, Fernández recorded 13 strikeouts, earning the 3–2 victory. With Fernández’s 14-strikeout performance against the Cleveland Indians on August 3, 2013, he became just the sixth pitcher since 2000 to strike out 13 or more batters in consecutive games. He established the Marlins’ rookie record for most strikeouts in one game. On the heels of his performance in July 2013, Fernández was named the Rookie of the Month for the National League, leading all qualified rookie pitchers in the ERA category. He followed up his July month with a tremendous August, in which he compiled a 1.15 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 39 innings pitched, which resulted him in receiving a consecutive Rookie of the Month for the month of August 2013.
Fernández’s rookie season has been considered historic as his 4.2 Wins Above Replacement places him in the Top 10 player seasons among those under 21 years old since 1900. Fernández’s Adjusted ERA+of 174 on the season also places him in the Top 10 all-time for pitchers under the age of 21, and he is only the fourth pitcher to record this feat in the past 100 years. His strikeout rate is the highest in his league, pacing the National League at 9.81 strikeouts per nine innings.
On September 11, 2013, Fernández hit his first career home run off of Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Minor. After crossing home plate, Fernández was confronted by Brian McCann, which then led to a bench-clearing fracas.
At the time after his last start of his rookie season, Fernández was in the top 10 of many pitching statistics in the National League, including sixth in strikeouts (187), first in strikeouts per nine innings (9.75) and hits allowed per nine innings (5.759), second in ERA (2.19) and Adjusted ERA+ (176), and third in WAR (6.3). Fernández won the Sporting News Rookie of the Year Award and the Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year Award in the National League. He came in third place in the Cy Young Award voting behind Adam Wainwright and winner Clayton Kershaw.
Fernández started his sophomore campaign as the Opening Day starter for the Marlins, making him the youngest Opening Day starting pitcher since Dwight Gooden in 1986. Fernández recorded nine strikeouts while walking none, and he joined Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Ferguson Jenkins, Walter Johnson, and Cy Young as the only pitchers to do so on Opening Day. On May 12, Fernández was placed on the 15-day disabled list due to a right elbow sprain. An MRI revealed that the elbow had a torn ulnar collateral ligament of the elbow, which prematurely ended Fernández’s 2014 season. He underwent Tommy John surgeryon May 16. He made eight starts, going 4–2 with a 2.44 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 2014.
Fernández began the 2015 season on the 15-day disabled list but was later moved to the 60-day DL to continue recovery from Tommy John surgery. It was announced by the Marlins on June 15 that he would make his season debut on July 2. In his debut, Fernández recorded six strikeouts in six innings. He also hit a home run. Fernández returned to the disabled list in August with a biceps strain in his pitching arm.He returned to the mound in September and set a major league record for consecutive wins at home by a single pitcher with his seventeenth such win on the 25th of that month.
To aid his recovery from Tommy John surgery, Fernández cut back on the use of his fastball during spring training in 2016 and began working on his secondary pitches.Appearing as a pinch hitter in the 12th inning against the Atlanta Braves on July 1, Fernández doubled in two runs to put the Marlins ahead 7–5, which ended up being the final score. He became just the second pitcher in Marlins history to produce a game-winning hit, following Dennis Cook on August 1, 1997. Fernandez appeared in the 2016 MLB All-Star Game.
Fernández’s last game was on September 20. He pitched eight shutout innings in a 1–0 win. He finished 2016 with a MLB-leading 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings, and a new Marlins’ season record of 253 strikeouts, in 182 1?3 innings. He won 16 games, the best of his four-year career, while losing eight, with a 2.86 ERA. For his career he had a 2.58 ERA, a 38–17 win-loss record for a .691 percentage.
Fernández threw four pitches: a four-seam fastball that averaged 94–97 miles per hour (151–156 km/h) and touched 101 miles per hour (163 km/h), a slurve at 80–86 miles per hour (129–138 km/h), a changeup at 85–88 miles per hour (137–142 km/h), and a sinker at 88–94 miles per hour (142–151 km/h).
Fernández considered his grandmother, Olga, the “love of his life”. After six years apart, Olga and José were reunited in Miami after the 2013 season. On April 24, 2015, Fernández received his US citizenship.
Fernández announced that his girlfriend, Carla Mendoza, was pregnant with their first child on September 20, 2016.
On the morning of September 25, 2016, Fernández was killed in a boating accident off Miami Beach that also killed two others. Emergency workers found the boat up at about 3:00 a.m. against the jetties near Government Cut and South Pointe Park and found three victims — two on top of the water, and one underneath the boat. The Marlins canceled their game that day.
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