After throwing 103, Fernández on Rox's radar

High-velocity right-hander continues to impress for Triple-A Albuquerque

August 21st, 2021

DENVER -- Right-handed relief prospect Julian Fernández’s radar readings at Triple-A Albuquerque have put him on the Rockies’ radar.

Fernández, 25, piqued interest when he registered a scoreboard reading of 103 mph on a fastball during an Aug. 8 game. More importantly, in a combined 39 2/3 innings at Double-A Hartford and Albuquerque, Fernández entered Friday with 38 strikeouts, 16 walks and a 1.18 WHIP. And all 11 of his Triple-A appearances have been scoreless.

It’s the type of dominance that could land Fernández with the Rockies -- a club that has shown no hesitance in throwing rookies into big league games. Even if he isn't called up, the extension of the Minor League season through September should give him opportunities to impress for 2022.

“He just powers the strike zone with that major fastball,” said Mark Wiley, the Rockies' director of pitching operations. “And he doesn’t back off when he gets hit, which is a really good sign. He doesn’t start aiming the ball or trying to miss bats.

“We thought his changeup would be a good second pitch, and it is, and his breaking ball is making strides. It’s a pitch that needs repetition, and he’s getting that this year. He’s really showed us a lot this year.”

It’s been a strange, off-the-radar trip for Fernández. After beginning his professional career in the Rockies' organization, the Giants selected him in the Rule 5 Draft going into the 2018 season. But he missed the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March. The Marlins claimed him off waivers after the ’18 season, but he didn't pitch in '19 and was returned to Colorado that October.

In 2020, Fernández made one appearance in Spring Training, then didn't get to pitch when the Minor League season was canceled because of the pandemic. To boot, his stuff and his velocity had not bounced back by this year's Spring Training, when he made one appearance for the Rockies.

Because Fernández spent essentially three years unseen, he wasn't ranked on the updated Rockies' Top 30 Prospects list per MLB Pipeline. Nonetheless, he could show up at Coors Field.

“I can’t get into his head and imagine all the stuff that he went through, moved around and hadn’t pitched and was on Major League injured lists and dealt with the expectations of different organizations that took him, even though he was hurt,” Wiley said. “You don’t know what that does to a guy mentally.

“He’s kind of a quiet guy. But in talking to [Double-A Hartford pitching coach] Frank Gonzales, he became more of a guy who would talk, who was aggressive and was having fun. He became the guy he really is.”

The Rockies look for Fernández to improve his fastball command on both sides of the plate and sharpen his breaking ball. Whether it’s now or later, Fernández has family-based incentive, which he revealed in a recent story in the Albuquerque Journal.

“The thing that changed my mind was my grandpa passed last year, and the one thing he said was that, 'The only thing I want for you is to pitch in the big leagues,'” Fernández told the Albuquerque Journal through an interpreter. “So right now, that’s the only thing I’m thinking about -- the promise I made to my grandpa that I was going to pitch in the big leagues. And right now, I’m just having fun and enjoying the ride.”

Prospect update
Outfielder Zac Veen, the Rockies’ first-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, was ranked No. 55 in MLB Pipeline's updated Top 100 Prospects list. He is Colorado's only player on the list.

In his first professional season out of Spruce Creek High School in Port Orange, Fla., Veen was batting .298 with 14 home runs and 30 stolen bases for Low-A Fresno entering Friday. The Rockies like that he is with a team that is in first place in the Low-A West North Division, and they believe that him being in a postseason race will help his development process.

Some younger prospects populate the top of the Rockies' updated rankings. For example, outfielder Benny Montgomery, Colorado's first-round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, came in at No. 2. He hit .278 in his first six games in the Arizona Complex League.

Players on the big league radar, however, include outfielder Ryan Vilade (No. 5) and corner infielder Colton Welker (No. 20).

Relief sleeper
Right-hander Chad Smith, who was acquired from the Marlins last season, is looking to make his Major League debut this season. Possessing an upper-90s fastball and a breaking ball that has made strides, the 26-year-old Smith has shaken off an oblique injury that caused him to miss some time at Triple-A.

Smith has held opponents to a .197 batting average while recording 24 strikeouts in 20 innings for Albuquerque.