José Miguel Fernández during 2019 action with the Doosan Bears

The Slugger the Bears Needed

Last year this site wrote about José Miguel Fernández and his great season for the Doosan Bears. Fast forward to the newly minted 2020 Korea Baseball organization season and Fernández is once again a topic of discussion for the site. The former Major League Baseball prospect is tearing up KBO pitching in both familiar and new ways. The one key improvement he’s made is in an area where most MLB scouts said he would never improve.

Throughout the 2019 season, Fernández displayed the same bat-to-ball skills that had made him a highly sought after prospect following his time with Cocodrilos de Matanzas of Serie Nacional de Béisbol. Fernández came out of Cuba with both an astute eye and an ability to spread the baseball all over the field. He also came with nominal power, but not enough to have that be his calling card. Throughout his tenure in affiliated baseball, the book on Fernández was that he had a great eye and made plenty of contact, but lacked the power his frame should be able to produce. That’s what made it so easy for affiliated baseball to give up on Fernández as he hit the thirty-year-old mark and remained the same type of hitter.

The first year with the Bears didn’t much change the thinking about the former Cuban star. He finished the 2019 season with a slash line of .344/.409/.483 and helped lead the Bears to a Korea Series championship. He chipped in 15 home runs and walked more than he struck out, yet still, affiliated scouts turned their noses up at the type of hitter Fernández represented. Undoubtedly a lot of that can be pinned on Fernández being an average fielding first baseman. It’s not the average part that matters but the first base part, in general, is important. Affiliated baseball no longer has much need for first basemen who don’t hit for big power numbers.

Fernández had found a home with the Bears and he could have maintained the same approach to 2020 as he had throughout the rest of his career. If Fernández ended the season with the same slash line as he had in 2019 the Bears would have been estatic. It’s important to reconcile that just because affiliated baseball decided that a slash line like the one above isn’t good enough for a first baseman doesn’t mean that affiliated baseball is correct. Still, Fernández wanted to prove he could be an even better hitter and so he didn’t stay with what he knew, he added to his game.

The pitch recognition is still the same from Fernández, as is his ability to handle the bat with ease. What he’s done is added a slight upward slope to his swing and focused on driving the ball more. The result has been a slash line of .479/.515/.729 with last year’s singles morphing into doubles. The caveat applies that we’re only dealing with 52 plate appearances so far. However, it’s not as if Fernández wasn’t a great hitter before he tinkered with his swing. He decidedly was, that’s why it’s easy to look at his present results compared with his past results and believe he’s simply kicked it up a notch. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to drive the ball. He had a similar slugging start in 2019, and then settled back into preferring contact over power.

The 2020 KBO season is young, but once again José Miguel Fernández is among the best the KBO has to offer. Beyond that, just like last year, he’s showing that perhaps there is a flaw in the way that MLB teams force players into very specific roles. I’m not enough of a scout to proclaim the last sentence as true, but I am smart enough to look at the production Fernández continues to provide and realize that affiliated baseball and its scouts may have been wrong about the Bears slugger.

Lead photo courtesy of Sung Min-Kim – Twitter

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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