Yankees might’ve landed a bullpen steal from the Pirates

Alexander Wilson
Junior Fernandez, yankees
Oct 5, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Junior Fernandez (43) pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

According to general manager Brian Cashman and owner Hal Steinbrenner, the New York Yankees are actively looking for bullpen arms on the market.

“We have a really good starting rotation. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be looking. We are going to look at everything as we always do. We had some big hits [injuries] in the bullpen, there is no doubt we need to look at the bullpen.”

Steinbrenner said.

Finding adequate talent is easier said than done without spending egregiously, which is why the team elected to steal Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Junior Fernandez off waivers. Just as the Mets snagged Stephen Ridings, Fernandez offers high-end velocity at 25 years old.

The Yankees should give Junior Fernandez a chance to build on his qualities:

Fernandez has accrued just 1.16 years of MLB service time, so he’s ready to produce right now with plenty of control. The right-handed pitcher stands at 6’3″ and 215 pounds, recording a 2.41 ERA last season over 18.2 innings with the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates.

The flamethrower posted 15.1 innings with the Cardinals, striking out 7.04 batters per nine with a 91.7% left-on-base rate and 60.4% ground ball rate. His ground ball percentages were impressive to go with a 99-mile-an-hour fastball on average.

Fernandez gives heavy Albert Abreu vibes, featuring blazing velocity but poor location, given he posted 5.79 walks per nine. If the Yankees can extrapolate on his talents and improve his accuracy, he could fill a nice role with the team moving forward.

In fact, he fits Matt Blakes’s mold perfectly in the bullpen, utilizing a sinker/slider approach. He also incorporates a 4-seam fastball and change-up at around 10–12% usage. His sinker is his primary pitch at 42% usage, generating a .282 average with a 20% put-away rate. His slider is his primary pitch, producing a 44% whiff rate and 18.4% put-away rate. Given his low strikeout numbers, Fernandez is simply looking for weak contact on his high-velocity pitches. He doesn’t generate a ton of spin rate but does have a Gyro slider that couples nicely with his sinker.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Blake tried to get his 4-seam a bit more incorporated, considering he didn’t allow a hit over six at-bats and throws it at 98.8 mph on average, just a tick higher than his sinker. However, he gets a bit more horizontal movement with his 4-seam, specifically 20% more break than the average pitcher.

With the Bombers looking for bullpen support, Fernandez offers a high-upside talent. Good coaching could turn him into a serviceable relief arm in 2023, and given how young and unpolished he is, the Yankees will undoubtedly be working with him this off-season to potentially fill a role that Miguel Castro left behind.

At a much cheaper price point, Fernandez can easily replace Castro, who earned $2.6 million last year and posted a 4.03 ERA over 29 innings.