ORLANDO, Fla. -- At age 21, Jose Fernandez has made the leap from prized prospect to head of the class.
The Marlins' phenom, who has an inspiring personal story and mesmerizing talent, was named on Monday as the National League Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA).
Like he did on the mound, Fernandez overwhelmed in the voting process. The right-hander received first-place votes on 26 of 30 ballots. He was second on four ballots, and he received a total of 142 points.
Fernandez was a finalist along with Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig and Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller. Puig finished second, and he collected four first-place votes. The Rays' Wil Myers won the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
"When they said my name, and said I had 26 votes, it was pretty nice," Fernandez said. "I'm really excited. I think the fans down in Miami are really happy about it. My family here is really excited too."
Fernandez beat long odds to even gain his freedom from Cuba. He reached the United States after several failed attempts, and after settling in Tampa, Fla., in 2008, the hard-throwing right-hander doggedly pursued his baseball dream. The Marlins made Fernandez the 14th overall selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
Making the day even more memorable is Fernandez was able to celebrate with his grandmother, Olga, whom he had not seen since he left Cuba five years ago. Olga obtained a five-year visitation visa, and the Marlins set up a surprise visit for Fernandez to reunite with his grandmother on Sunday at Marlins Park.
When Fernandez was informed he had won, he was flanked by his grandmother and mother, Maritza, during the announcement on MLB Network.
"I was kind of expecting to be the Rookie of the Year, or it to be close," Fernandez said. "Having my grandma here came out of nowhere. It's completely out of nowhere. I'm trying to let it sink in, and I'm trying to spend time with her."
As an organization, the Marlins rely heavily on player development. Fernandez is the latest to be recognized for his success. He is the fourth player in franchise history to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award, joining Dontrelle Willis (2003), Hanley Ramirez ('06) and Chris Coghlan ('09).
Fernandez also joins Tony Oliva (1964) as the only Cuban-born Rookie of the Year.
Entering the season, MLB.com ranked Fernandez as the Marlins' No. 1 prospect and the seventh overall prospect in the Majors. Whether he had the skill set to be a top-flight rookie was never in question. Fernandez's big league arrival time was. Many believed his first opportunity would come at least midway through 2013 or perhaps in '14.
Initially projected to open the season at Double-A Jacksonville, Fernandez instead found himself on the Opening Day roster due to a couple of injuries. The right-hander seized the moment, and at age 20, he made his MLB debut on April 7.
Handled with care because of his age and inexperience, Fernandez quickly showed he not only belonged in the big leagues, but he could also dominate at the highest level.
Fernandez finished 12-6, and his 2.19 ERA was second in the NL to Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw's 1.83.
In Fernandez's 28 starts, the Marlins were 18-10. Fernandez paced all NL rookies in ERA (2.19), strikeouts (187), batting average against (.182) and WHIP (0.98). He also averaged 9.75 strikeouts per nine innings
The only thing that slowed the rookie down was limitations imposed by his own organization. On the eve of the season opener, the Marlins made it clear Fernandez was subject to an innings-limit range of 150-170. Due to his age and the fact he hadn't pitched above Class A, the club closely monitored the right-hander.
Fernandez pushed it to 172 2/3 innings.
To stay in shape in the offseason, Fernandez has been riding a bicycle. He regularly wakes up around 6 a.m., and he pedals about 50 miles a day. Fernandez has yet to pick up a baseball, but he is making a pledge for 2014 when it comes to his workload.
"There won't be any innings limits, because I will get pretty upset," Fernandez said.
In the upcoming days, Fernandez plans on talking with pitching coach Chuck Hernandez, who lives near him in the Tampa area. They will go over his throwing sessions leading up to Spring Training.
As part of his remarkable 2013, Fernandez also threw an inning in the All-Star Game, and he didn't disappoint. In a perfect sixth, Fernandez struck out Dustin Pedroia and Chris Davis while getting Miguel Cabrera on a soft pop fly to first. The performance made Fernandez the third pitcher in the history of the All-Star Game to strike out two batters prior to turning 21 in his Midsummer Classic debut.
Fernandez celebrated his 21st birthday on July 31, and he kept dominating in the second half.
Highly intense and competitive, Fernandez didn't hide his desire to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
"It's really, really, really important," he said. "It's something I was expecting, I'm not going to lie. Hopefully, I was going to win it. And having my family here made it even better."
Fernandez's final start came on Sept. 11, against the Braves at Marlins Park. In grand style, Fernandez went out with a dominating performance, limiting Atlanta to one run on five hits with five strikeouts.
In an emotionally charged effort, Fernandez even belted his first big league home run. It came with some drama, because the Braves took exception to the way he admired the shot. The benches cleared, and after the game, Fernandez apologized for his actions.
What the Marlins and Fernandez aren't sorry about is the passion and energy the right-hander brings to the ballpark every day.
On July 28, he struck out 13 Pirates, and five days later, he set a franchise record with 14 strikeouts in a win over the Indians.
Fernandez was voted NL Rookie of the Month in July and August.
Monday's award is yet another top rookie honor Fernandez has received in recent weeks. He was already recognized by The Sporting News, Baseball America and during the MLBPA's Players Choice Awards.
Fernandez may not be done bringing home offseason hardware. He also is a finalist -- along with Kershaw and St. Louis' Adam Wainwright -- for the NL Cy Young Award, which will be handed out on Wednesday.
Monday was a crowning moment for a player who wasn't even sure when he would be called up to the big leagues.
"Things happen for a reason," Fernandez said. "I got a chance to be here and I took advantage of it. I play hard. That's what the fans are going to get out of me. I'm going to play hard and give everything I've got."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro.