Jose Fernandez needed four attempts to defect to the United States from his native Cuba. Each of the three failed escapes resulted in prison time.
The final, successful try included a then 15-year-old Fernandez diving into the water to save his mother, who had gone overboard after their boat hit violent waves.With such life experiences, it seems silly to say Fernandez will feel pressure when he makes his major league debut against the New York Mets at Citi Field on Sunday.
Excitement? Of course. Nervousness? Probably. But pressure?
Fernandez, 20, will begin his highly anticipated big-league career after preparing to start the season at Double-A. His arrival in Miami figured to come midseason, at the earliest.
Those plans surprisingly changed on Sunday, when the right-hander was promoted to the parent club after Marlins starters Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez were put on the disabled list with shoulder injuries.
Miamis first-round pick in 2010, Fernandez will make his first career start less than two years out of high school and nearly five years after arriving from Cuba.
The best baseball is in the big leagues, Fernandez says in the current issue of Baseball America. I really want to work to be the best, and thats why I wanted to play here. I wanted to prove myself I could do it.
During his time in major league camp this spring, Fernandez was lockered next to two other highly touted prospects: outfielders Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick.
Yelich, projected to be Miamis future center fielder, led the team this spring in homers, RBI and runs. Marisnicks spring ended prematurely after he suffered a broken hand. Both those players will begin 2013 at Double-A.
Fernandez pitched in just one game during a Grapefruit League play before being reassigned March 13 to Miami's minor league camp where he could throw the necessary amount of innings to build up for the season. He allowed one hit and struck out two in two innings in his lone outing, against Washington on March 9.
Fernandezs other noteworthy spring moment was one he wished hadnt happened.The righty drilled Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton in the head with a pitch on Feb. 20.
"He's got some bite to his fastball, which is good," Stanton said a few days earlier, when he stepped in against the youngster for the first time. "He'll be next to us (in the clubhouse) pretty soon."
Turns out, its sooner than anyone had expected.
Fernandez, who wore No. 78 this spring, will be wearing a more suitable No. 16 when he faces the Mets. He relies on a 93- to 97-mph fastball, a change-up and curve, which he throws at different speeds and on any count.
"This is the best I've felt in my life," Fernandez told FOX Sports.com after throwing to hitters for the first time this spring.
Now that he has joined the Marlins, Fernandez probably wont be going anywhere.Team president Larry Beinfest has indicated Fernandez is expected to throw150-170 innings with Miami this season.
We understand the asset we have, and the value of him, and his age, and were going to do whatever we can do to do things in his best interests, Beinfest told reporters Sunday. Our goal is we want him to pitch up here, get the experience now. We think hes ready to do it.
Scout.com national baseball analyst Kiley McDaniel saw Fernandez twice last season in Class A. Besides grading Fernandezs fastball as well above average, Kiley said the pitchers curve was, the most impressive breaking pitch I've seen in the minor leagues in a while.
There's a chance we're looking at a No. 1 starter here and Fernandez could reach his frontline ceiling as soon as next season, Kiley said. That combined with the city and his heritage could launch something as special as Fernando-mania.
Charlie McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mccarthy_chas