While the whereabouts of Cuban standout second baseman Jose Fernandez are not 100 percent confirmed, the widespread belief throughout baseball is that Fernandez is still in Cuba.
Fernandez and catcher Lazaro Herrera, his cousin and teammate on Matanzas in Serie Nacional, have not played since Oct. 10. A couple of days later, Matanzas manager Victor Mesa, who also manages the Cuban national team, said he didn’t know where they were. When Fernandez and Herrera continued to not appear in the lineup, that fueled speculation that the two had left Cuba.
However, several teams told Baseball America they are under the impression that Fernandez and Herrera are still in Cuba. Other sources plugged into the Cuban market, including sources in Cuba, said they also believe that the two are still on the island. The general belief is that Fernandez and Herrera attempted to defect, but were unsuccessful.
The Cuban government has not officially confirmed that Fernandez is still in Cuba, or said anything about his whereabouts. However, Fernandez and Herrera are both no longer playing for Matanzas, having been released from the team due to disciplinary reasons. They’re also unable to play at international tournaments, such as last month’s Central American and Caribbean Games in Mexico. By contrast, the government at the same time did publicly acknowledge that second baseman Hector Olivera is no longer in Cuba, which had been reported by Baseball America in September.
So right now, teams are operating under the belief that Fernandez remains in Cuba. However, given that he’s no longer playing there, they’re prepared in case something changes. Several players—including Yasiel Puig and Rusney Castillo—have been caught trying to defect, faced disciplinary sanctions, then were eventually successful in subsequent attempts.
Fernandez, 26, is Baseball America’s No. 3 player still in Cuba. At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Fernandez has excellent plate discipline and bat control from the left side, hitting .326/.482/.456 with 65 walks and 10 strikeouts in 314 plate appearances during the 2013-14 season. He was batting .315/.415/.426 with only one strikeout in 65 plate appearances this season until he was kicked off the team. He’s a better player than the two most recent top Cuban signings, Castillo and Diamondbacks outfielder Yasmany Tomas. Since Fernandez has more than five seasons of experience in Cuba, he too would be exempt from the international bonus pools if he ever does leave to pursue a contract with a major league team.