Jose Fernandez, the 14th overall selection in the 2011 Draft, didn't disappoint in his first full professional season. In fact, quite the opposite.
Miami's second-ranked prospect exceeded all expectations by mowing through the Class A South Atlantic League, going 7-0 with a 1.59 ERA for Greensboro to earn a promotion to the Class A Advanced Florida State League before his 20th birthday.
He provided more of the same in Jupiter, going 7-1 with a 1.96 ERA to finish out the season. Between the two levels, he compiled a 1.75 ERA in 134 innings, striking out 158 -- good for a 10.61 strikeouts-per-nine mark -- while walking just 35.
The performance earned him a number of accolades, including Marlins Minor League Pitcher of the Year and a MiLBY for best pitcher in the Minors. MLB.com's No. 22 overall prospect could be one of the fastest risers in 2013 as he'll get a taste of big league life with an invitation to the Marlins' Spring Training camp. He'll likely begin the season with Double-A Jacksonville at just 20 years old.
MiLB.com chatted with Fernandez at the dawn of the new year.
MiLB.com: In a season in which pretty much everything went right, was there anything about your first full exposure to pro ball you found difficult?
Fernandez: In my personal opinion, traveling was a little hard. Lot of hours on the bus, driving 10-12 hours and then you have to play the next day. I like to rest pretty good before I pitch. I know [traveling] is the same for everybody, but personally for me I didn't like it. But after that, everything else was perfect.
MiLB.com: Did it make things more comfortable, being from Cuba and having gone to high school in Tampa, to get drafted by Miami and then to get to spend a good amount of time in the Florida State League?
Fernandez: Being close to home, I got my family to see me a couple times, which was pretty good, pretty fun. It was nice to play down in Florida.
[In terms of] comfort-wise, with pitching, everywhere I pitch, I just pitch -- that's what I do. I just went out there and tried the best I could every time out. It doesn't matter who's watching. I work pretty hard to try to be the best or one of the best players. Every time I get a chance to go on the mound, I want to prove to myself I can be better than the last time out. I just love to pitch.
MiLB.com: Was there one highlight about the year that stood out to you?
Fernandez: I had a pretty good year on the mound, so I don't know about really one start that stood out. I had the Futures Game and pitched that inning, I was pretty happy about that one. I pitched against [Delmarva, an Orioles affiliate] and struck out 12 in six innings, something like that. I had one in Bradenton, where I threw five innings in 60 something pitches, struck out eight guys, two hits. I had a lot of good starts.
MiLB.com: Were you happy with how you progressed as the year went along?
Fernandez: My year was great. Hopefully I can do it again. The first full year, there were a lot of expectations. A lot of people say, "Oh, this was good, this wasn't good." But it's fun, just pitching every fifth day. It's good work, and trying to get better every time out is fun for me.
MiLB.com: Do you feel like you improved in any specific way as a pitcher?
Fernandez: There's not one thing that comes to mind, I feel like I got better at a lot of things. Especially with the teammates, you see them every day, and I built a good relationship with them, with the coaches. They're pretty amazing, all the guys I met. I learned a lot about how to get ready every fifth day.
MiLB.com: Was the level of success you had a surprise at all to you?
Fernandez: Not at all. Like I said I try to be the best I can be every time out. I just love what I do, I don't see it like it's a job -- it's fun when I get on the mound. I have a bit of confidence in myself. I expect to pitch like that and hopefully be a bit better.
MiLB.com: Were you proud of all the different awards and recognition you received for your season?
Fernandez: I mean every year, before I start my year, I have a plan and things I want to achieve. One of the things for me was I just wanted to keep getting better, have good things keep happening. So it's nice.
MiLB.com: From the perspective of just being a pretty young guy, do you think there was a lot of personal growth for you this year?
Fernandez: Yeah, big time. I came from Cuba when I was 15, and I went through a lot of stuff, and I came here to be a baseball player. A lot of people have that dream and I had it too. I worked hard for it. I'm just gonna keep working hard. I want to play in the big leagues and stay there for a long time, and hopefully, I can be one of the greatest.
MiLB.com: Do you ever miss Cuba?
Fernandez: I have a lot of family there. I know I'm not allowed to go back, so it's hard. It's not easy when you have most of your family back there and you can only talk to them on the phone, but it's just part of it. I go out there knowing they want me to be in the big leagues too. Hopefully, one day it changes down there and we can go back and forth.
MiLB.com: With that year behind you, then, how have you been spending your offseason?
Fernandez: I've spent a lot of time with my family, a lot of time working out, not much else. I don't have a lot of friends, just been with my family, trying to be together before I leave next month for big league Spring Training. Do as much as I can with them.
MiLB.com: Are you intimidated at all, going to camp with all those Major Leaguers where you'll be one of the youngest guys there, maybe the youngest guy there?
Fernandez: They told me when the year ended that I was invited to big league camp, so it's a big opportunity and I'm gonna try to do the best I can to make the team. That's out of my hands -- they can decide what's best for me, best for the organization.
I'm happy to be going there, like everybody, to try to make the team and after that, see what happens. But I don't see these guys by age, "Oh, this guy's 27, this guy's 30." My coaches say, "Baseball talks." You don't have to say anything, you don't have to act any way. When you pitch, the ball is what talks. I'll do what I do, and hopefully it goes well.