It's about as far from Jupiter's Roger Dean Stadium to Marlins Park in Miami as it is from Cuba to the United States. For Jose Fernandez
, though, the journey is shaping up as a lot less perilous.
It took four tries for the Marlins pitching prospect to escape Cuba as a teenager and make it to the U.S. It could take him just a few seasons to reach his baseball goal in Miami.
"It was always my dream to pitch in the Major Leagues," Fernandez said.
The 14th overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft appears to be on his way. No one in the Minors has had a more impressive first full season on the mound this year.
Fernandez, who turned 20 on July 31, is a combined 13-1 with a 1.81 ERA in 23 starts for Class A Advanced Jupiter and Class A Greensboro, striking out 150 in 124 innings.
The stellar season has vaulted Fernandez to No. 90 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects, and the right-hander ranks No. 3 on the Marlins' list.
Things didn't go nearly as smoothly in the pitcher's early attempts to join his father in Florida and pursue his baseball dream.
Fernandez was caught in his first try at age 14 and imprisoned for a while. In another attempt, he had to rescue his mother, who had fallen overboard from the boat.
"It is not easy to talk about," Fernandez said.
But at age 15 he was able to make it to Mexico along with his mother and sister and then later on to Tampa to be reunited with his father.
Although unable to speak English at first, the budding pitcher enrolled at Alonso High School and quickly began dominating opposing hitters as impressed scouts watched.
The Marlins, seeing a potential gate attraction for their new ballpark in Little Havana, gladly took Fernandez in the first round and gave him a bonus at the August signing deadline worth $2 million -- well over slot.
Fernandez got into just two Minor League games last year but has more than made up for any lost time this season.
The hard thrower was 7-0 with a 1.59 ERA in 14 starts for Greensboro in the South Atlantic League and is 6-1 with a 2.20 ERA in nine Florida State League starts with the Hammerheads.
His only loss came July 16 before family and friends in Tampa, when he allowed just four hits and one run while striking out eight and walking none.
Fernandez, who can hit the high 90s with his fastball, has been limited to five innings in each of his starts since being promoted to Jupiter, usually throwing 65 to 80 pitches.
"I'd like to go seven or eight innings," he said. "But they know what they are doing."
Fernandez has certainly made the most of his time on the mound. He has won each of his past five starts while allowing just one run on 11 hits. In the 25 innings, he has struck out 31 and walked eight.
"Everything is working and I feel good," Fernandez said. "The team is trying to make the playoffs and I want to be at my best each start."
Fernandez's success at Jupiter is a carryover from the All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City. He pitched a scoreless second inning for the World Team, allowing one hit and striking out two. Both of the third strikes came on curveballs, and he hit 99 mph on one fastball.
"It was really exciting -- I was pumped up," Fernandez said. "It was my first time pitching in a Major League stadium before a big crowd."
More such outings may not be that far off. In a few years, the native of Cuba could be a big gate attraction in Miami.
"It would be amazing," Fernandez said. "Every day I wake up I'm thankful. I know how hard life can be. What has happened is incredible. My dreams are coming true."
Barnes ties record: Danny Barnes tied the Dunedin record set by Wes Etheridge last year with his 32nd save in 34 opportunities. He had allowed one run in 22 1/3 innings since the All-Star Game while giving up nine hits and recording 32 strikeouts to four walks. The FSL record for saves in a season is 38, done most recently by R.A. Dickey of Charlotte in 1998. Barnes had appeared in 48 games and had an overall ERA of 1.47.
O'Neill promoted: Mike O'Neill was leading the FSL with a .342 batting average and a .442 on-base percentage when promoted by St. Louis from Palm Beach to Double-A Springfield. The outfielder had 132 hits and was nine short of Juan Lucena's franchise mark set in 2006. O'Neill had 70 walks to 24 strikeouts in 108 games with Palm Beach.
Hot duo: Jupiter has two of the FSL's hottest hitters in outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. Yelich, Miami's No. 2 prospect and No. 27 on the MLB.com Top 100 list, is hitting .362 since the All-Star Game and moved into second place in the league batting race with a .324 average. He leads the league with a .524 slugging mark. Ozuna, the Marlins' No. 6 prospect, is hitting .364 with four homers and 17 RBIs in his past 10 games. He leads the league with 22 home runs and is second with 85 RBIs.
Collier goes deep: Clearwater outfielder Zach Collier matched his previous season total of three when he homered in each game of a weekend home series with Brevard County. He also had a triple in the series opener and drove in three runs. Collier was hitting .271 in 69 games after serving a 50-game drug suspension to start the season.