The Yankees announced they’ve claimed reliever Junior Fernandez off waivers from the Pirates. Pittsburgh has designated him for assignment on Tuesday.
Fernandez will bring a blistering fastball to the Yankees — albeit one that has been difficult for the 25-year-old to command and that has not resulted in many strikeouts. Through 54 Major League innings to date, mostly with the Cardinls, Fernandez carries a tepid 5.17 ERA with a pedestrian 18.7% strikeout against a 13.9% walk rate. He’s generated a strong 13.6% swinging-strike rate in his career, however, and his average heater has crept up from 97 mph as a rookie in 2019 to a whopping 99 mph in this past season’s 18 2/3 frames.
Prior to the 2022 season, Fernandez relied exclusively on a four-seamer as his fastball. In 2022, however, he shifted away from that four-seamer in favor of a sinker, holding his sweltering velocity and enjoying an uptick in an already strong ground-ball rate. He’s induced grounders at a 49.4% clip in his career but sat at a gaudy 58.9% clip in 2022. The newly adopted power sinker and massive ground-ball rate is a profile for which the Yankees, in particular, have shown an affinity in recent seasons.
Fernandez is out of minor league options, so the Yankees will either need to attempt to pass him through waivers themselves at some point between now and Opening Day — or else commit to carrying him on their Opening Day roster. If he makes it through the winter on the 40-man roster, Spring Training will serve as an audition for him. In 83 career innings at the Triple-A level, Fernandez has a 4.12 ERA with a 27% strikeout rate against a 10.5% walk rate.