New KBO Exposure Provides Renewed Interest in Jose Miguel Fernandez
Sep 3, 2018; Arlington, TX, USA; Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Jose Fernandez (20) in action during the game against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Three years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed 28-year-old Cuban defector Jose Miguel Fernandez as an international free agent. At the time, it had been almost three years since he had played professionally (Cuban National Series).
Fernandez’s hitting and plate disciple were highly regarded by American scouts as he struck out less than 115 times in over 2,500 Cuban National Series plate appearances. Three years since his signing, Fernandez is gaining the attention of American baseball fans and scouts alike with his hot start to the now-nationally televised Korean Baseball Organization games.
Fernandez is one of the hottest hitters in the KBO as the foreign-born starting second baseman for the Doosan Bears. He is in his second season for Doosan after finishing second in the league in hitting last season with his .344 batting average. The left-handed-hitting Fernandez is slashing a .488/.532/.744 line through the first 10 games of the season. Fernandez is leading all KBO hitters in batting average, hits (21), and runs scored (11) in the second week of the league’s season and could be a candidate for another shot at a MLB bid in the coming years.
Recent KBO players to return to MLB after finding rejuvenated success in Korea include Washington Nationals first baseman Eric Thames, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Merrill Kelly, annd Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Lindblom, who was last year’s KBO Most Valuable Player.
Fernandez spent only one year in the Dodgers’ system in 2017, primarily spending time at Double-A beffore reaching Triple-A for three games. The Los Angeles Angels would sign Fernandez after his release from the Dodgers after the season and Fernandez tore up the Pacific Coast League with a .333/.396/.535 line for Salt Lake before getting his first call to Major League Baseball. Fernandez answered the call at the plate fairly well in limited opportunity with the Halos split between first base and second base late in the season.
Fernandez’s decision to sign and play in Korea could result in a lucrative outcome as the now-32-year-old could provide value to MLB teams looking to boost their line-ups in 2021. The additional attention given now to North American baseball fans watching Fernandez and fellow foreign-borns Preston Tucker, Dan Straily, and others could result in renewed interest by MLB organizations.
It will be interesting to see how the following of KBO baseball leads to new opportunities for other players and should only help draw foreign-born talent into the Korean league. The proverbial “Four-A” veterans from America who never seem to stick at the highest level of baseball in the world may find the KBO as a lifeline to renewed interest in their talents by MLB clubs.
The road has been long for Fernandez since defecting from Cuba in 2015 and struggling to get everyday playing time in MLB, but his path is broadening with every day of KBO broadcast to a new national audience in the United States.
While the rest of the baseball community waits for the season to get started, Fernandez and his fellow KBO colleagues will own the national spotlight when it comes to baseball stardom for at least the next month.