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Giants take hard-throwing reliever from Rockies in Rule 5 Draft, lose Albert Suarez

Julian Fernandez throws in the 100s, but he’s never appeared above Low-A

News: Hurricane Harvey
There isn’t a picture of the baseball Julian Fernandez in the system, so here’s a Julian Fernandez who rescued his python from Hurricane Harvey.
Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

With the second-overall pick in the 2017 Rule 5 Draft, the Giants selected Julian Fernandez, a hard-throwing right-handed reliever previously in the Rockies’ system. They will either carry him on the 25-man roster all season, or they’ll have to offer him back to the Rockies for half of the $100,000 fee they paid for Fernandez.

It’s highly unlikely that Fernandez will stick in the bullpen all year, so the Giants are essentially paying $50,000 for a month-long look. It’s an inexpensive raffle ticket on a pitcher who regularly throws in the 100s. and hoping to be surprised.

Still the longest of long shots, though. Fernandez is 22 years old (good) and has thrown as high as 103 (great), but he’s struggled with his command (bad), with a career mark of five walks for every nine innings pitched (really bad). And even though he’s the same age that Madison Bumgarner was when the Giants won their second World Series (fun), he hasn’t advanced past Low-A yet (bad). It’s almost unheard of for a reliever to jump straight from High-A to the majors. Fernandez is even another level below that.

Still, if the scouting report is “big fastball, rough command, extremely limited offspeed stuff,” you can see why the Giants would be interested at least in the initial looksee. Pitchers in the lower minors are often told to pitch in a way that makes them uncomfortable — say, a huge percentage of breaking balls, or no breaking balls at all — because the development is more important than the results. It’s possible the Giants want to see how hitters do against Fernandez’s fastball in spring training, and they’ll worry about the other stuff later.

If there are reasons for optimism, it’s that Fernandez’s control really came around last year. After walking 20 in 23 innings the season before, he walked just 18 batters in 58 innings last year, and he finished strong, too. In his last 30 games, he struck out 35 and walked just nine in 34 innings. Not bad for a pitcher who walked five batters in his first seven innings of the season.

It’s a long shot, but one of the benefits of losing 98 games is that they get to pick high in the Rule 5 Draft. Fernandez grabbed somebody’s attention.

In the Triple-A phase of the draft, the Giants grabbed two players. The first is Eduardo Rivera, a 25-year-old right-hander with gaudy strikeout numbers and ugly walk rates in the low minors. He topped out in Low-A, too, but unlike Fernandez, he doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster or stick in the majors all year. The Giants also selected Wander Franco, a 23-year-old third baseman who hit .279/.319/.376 in High-A.

For perspective, here’s the name of one of the most successful minor-league Rule 5 draftees ever. Are you ready? We’re talking in the history of baseball. This guy was more successful in the majors than just about any minor-league Rule 5 draftee ever. Here goes:

Eugenio Velez.

Yep, that’s perspective, alright. Since the Giants took him from the Blue Jays, though, Justin Bour turned into an All-Star, so that’s the new gold standard.

It wasn’t just the Giants who were shopping, though. The Diamondbacks selected Albert Suarez with the 14th pick in the draft, and he has a fine chance to stick on their roster all year. Suarez appeared in 40 games with the Giants over the last two seasons, and his high velocity and tight breaking ball in relief last year were something of a revelation. He had some hiccups in August that really messed with his ERA, but he’s probably a solid major league reliever. I’ll grade him a maybe-probably, even.

The Giants also lost Skyler Ewing (25-year-old who was converted to catcher last year), Martin Cervenka (Czech-born catcher who was just signed as a minor-league free agent a couple weeks ago), and Andrew Muren (29-year-old who converted to pitching in 2016) in the minor-league portion of the draft. See the note up there about Velez if you’re upset or concerned about that.

The big news, though, is Fernandez. Will he stick? Probably not. But there’s at least another 100-mph fastball to watch in Scottsdale. I’ll spend $100,000 of someone else’s money for that kind of entertainment.