The Toronto Blue Jays have made another bullpen acquisition, this time claiming right-hander Junior Fernández off waivers from the New York Yankees on Thursday, the team announced via social media.
Fernández, who spent most of last season with the St. Louis Cardinals, is no stranger to the waiver wire as he was designated for assignment in September and ultimately claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. But the 25-year-old’s tenure in “The Steel City” only spanned a few months before he hit waivers again in November, eventually claimed by New York.
The 6-foot-3 hurler returned to the waiver wire just over a month later and now finds himself joining the Blue Jays organization with the calendar flipped to 2023. And he’ll be looking to build off a disappointing 2022 performance.
In his fourth big-league season with St. Louis, Fernández registered a 2.93 ERA over 15.1 innings in relief, but he could’ve fared far worse, evidenced by his concerning 5.85 FIP and 11.4 per cent walk rate. The young righty also struggled to prevent home runs, posting a 1.76 HR/9 and a 25 per cent HR/FB ratio. And he was also worth minus-0.3 fWAR.
Fernández didn’t surrender a run over his three appearances with the Pirates, although he walked four of his 14 batters faced and only struck out two. There is, however, lots to like about his four-pitch arsenal.
The former Cardinal features two different fastballs – a sinker and a four-seamer – and both averaged at least 98 m.p.h. in 2022. His sinking fastball was utilized 42 per cent of the time, with his secondary heater at just 12.6. And his primary offering got the best of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. during a matchup last season.
Fernández also features a high-80s slider, which posted impressive whiff (44 per cent) and strikeout rates (25.9 per cent), and a low-90s changeup. Both pitches earned a zero or worse run value in 2022, though.
The hard-throwing righty’s four-seamer generated the highest run value (-2) amongst his repertoire a season ago, suggesting its usage should probably increase in 2023. It may also be beneficial to dramatically reduce his sinker’s workload, likely improving its effectiveness.
And with spring training less than two months away, Fernández – who doesn’t possess any minor-league options – will be hoping to earn a spot in Toronto’s suddenly crowded bullpen.