Scouting Mets Prospect #40: Rafael Fernandez

Fernandez is improving, but needs to stay healthy

Savannah outfielder Rafael Fernandez's name was not commonplace this season. The third-year outfielder had a chance to really expand his game before the injury bug knocked him out early in the season. However, Fernandez still has a chance to make an impact upon his return next season. What steps does he need to take? Look inside to find out.

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Vital Statistics
Name Rafael Fernandez
DOB August 3, 1988
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 175
Bats Left
Throws: Left
Status: Free Agent Signing (5/4/2006)

While teammates Wilmer Flores, Jefry Marte and those fronting the Sand Gnats rotation gained the headlines out Grayson Stadium, there was plenty of action in the outfield. One of those names in the seemingly endless rotation of Sand Gnats outfielder was Rafael Fernandez. However, the 21-year-old's season was cut short due to a left hamstring strain on the last day of July which limited him to 73 games in his long-season debut.

The statistics were nothing to write home about as he hit .254 with one home run and 14 RBI with 20 walks in 299 at-bats, but he began to make necessary adjustments at the plate. Those adjustments, and improvements, came in the form of better plate discipline, a firmer approach in two-strike counts and timing of his mechanics. It is why the injury came at the worst time according Sand Gnats hitting coach Ryan Ellis.

"We missed Rafael for a while a while," said Ellis. "We missed not only because of his bat, but because of his overall ability and his speed. When he was with us, he made the right adjustments and I just wish that he didn't miss so much time."

Like most young hitters, Fernandez is still learning to beyond the fastball and when to better time his aggressiveness. He does a good job of driving the fastball and continues to improve on timing and execution of secondary pitches. It has helped close some holes in his swing and provided more stability in the box.

Keeping a consistent swing is the most pivotal piece to his growth at the plate. He makes good contact, has some budding power that should enhance in time, but Ellis worked with Fernandez to keep a middle of the field approach so he can drive breaking and off-speed pitches. It is a discipline coaches have worked with him on since his debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2007.

Despite a mediocre batting average, it is an approach that should lead to improvements next season. Fernandez was healthy enough to participate in the Dominican Instructional League where he worked with Ellis on maintaining a disciplined approach.

"I thought he did an excellent job this year making adjustments. We did some work during Instructs with this swing that will hopefully make him more productive later in the count because he's another guy who sees the ball very well," Ellis explained.

Year

Team

AVG.

AB

Hits

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

K

OBP

SLG

2009

Savannah

.254

299

76

1

14

38

10

20

68

.302

.338

2008

Kingsport

.259

228

59

4

31

41

4

24

69

.332

.399

2007

GCL

.625

8

5

0

2

4

0

2

0

.700

.625



Batting and Power: For now, the most encouraging aspect of Fernandez's offense is his contact stroke. While it has yet to translate to a high average or power production, the advancements in his up the middle approach have laid the foundation for further progress in the future. He is still working on keeping his hands back to drive the ball to the opposite field with more consistency, though he did achieve that with greater frequency this year over 2008. At times, he still becomes too eager or anxious to hit for power and finds himself reaching for the ball. However, better pitch recognition and swing timing have provided a better plan of attack at the plate. It is a slow and steady process for Fernandez, but maintaining that discipline and keeping things simple the basic elements that will allow him to advance as a hitter. Added strength to his frame will allow complimentary home run power to come in the future, but for now he remains a singles and extra base hitter who will use speed to his advantage.

Base Running and Speed: Fernandez uses that speed on the bases to both stretch base hits and as a stolen base threat. He nabbed ten bases in 16 attempts in 2009. That number should only grow in the future as he further improves his ability to read pitchers, pick his pitches and enhance that first step. His excellent speed makes him a available to play all three outfield positions and provide very good range in each spot.

Defense: As noted, Fernandez offers the flexibility to play all three outfield positions, but his future is likely up the middle as he does not provide enough projectable power to hold down a corner spot. He has the arm strength for right field, but his speed and athleticism will be best served in center. He reads balls very well and good recovery speed lets him go get balls in the gaps with the best in the organization.

Projection: Fernandez remains a fairly raw prospect who needs every game he can get in the future. If he can continue to add power and become even an average home run threat, he could be in discussion as a starter, but chances are he will hang on as a fourth outfielder who provides speed and defense off the bench. The results will not come quickly on the farm for Fernandez which means if and when he does break through, it will likely be as an older prospect.

ETA: 2013. It is a prediction that seems a long way out, but given the pace of Fernandez's development, plus the loss of half a season in 2009, we act conservatively and give the outfielder another three seasons on the farm. Such an arrival date will make him 24 years old at the time of his debut. If he splits a season in two levels in the future, that could bring his ETA back to late 2012, but he is not a player the organization will rush.

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