Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández, the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year and one of the brightest young pitching talents in baseball, died early Sunday morning in a boating accident off Miami Beach. Fernández was 24.
The Marlins confirmed Fernández's death in a brief statement. "The Miami Marlins organization is devastated by the tragic loss of José Fernández. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this very difficult time," the team said. The Marlins cancelled their Sunday game against the Atlanta Braves following news of Fernández's death.
Miami's WSVN first reported that the U.S. Coast Guard were responding to a boat accident where at least three people were killed. "They found a boat that was up against the jetties," Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Todd Garofalo told WSVN. "They did do an initial search and they found three victims — two on top of the water, one underneath the boat and they had unfortunately passed away." The Coast Guard later announced that Fernández was among the victims.
Born in Cuba in 1992, Fernández and his family attempted to defect from the nation numerous times, with each failed attempt resulting in a prison stay. In 2007, the 15-year-old Fernández, his mother and sister finally reached Florida, settling in the Tampa area. During that last defection attempt, a giant wave hit their boat one night and washed Fernández's mother overboard. Without hesitating, Fernández jumped in to rescue her, as the pitcher told Grantland in 2013.
Following a stellar high school career, Fernández was deemed eligible for the 2011 MLB Draft, where he was selected by the then-Florida Marlins in the first round. After just one season in the minors, Fernández elevated himself among baseball's elite prospects before earning a spot in the Marlins rotation in 2013.
Armed with a fastball that effortlessly and routinely clocked in the mid-90s and a perplexing changeup dubbed "the Defector," Fernández unleashed a near-historic rookie season for a player under 21 years old: A 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA, 187 strikeouts and a 4.2 Wins Above Replacement number. In his first season, the pitcher cruised to the NL Rookie of the Year award, was named an NL All-Star and finished third in NL Cy Young voting.
Fernández's sophomore season was marred by the dreaded Tommy John surgery, which limited the right-hander to just 19 starts over the 2014 and 2015 seasons. However, the Marlins pitcher returned – and in some ways, exceeded – his great rookie year in 2016 with a 16-8 record, 253 strikeouts, another All Star Game selection and an NL-leading 12.5 strikeouts-per-9 innings.
Fernández, who became an American citizen in 2015, was initially scheduled to start Sunday's game, but his spot in the rotation was pushed to Monday. That start was billed as the pitcher's 30th and final start of the season.
"All of Baseball is shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández," Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "He was one of our game's great young stars who made a dramatic impact on and off the field since his debut in 2013. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, the Miami Marlins organization and all of the people he touched in his life."
"When I think about Jose, I see such a little boy. The way he played, there was just joy with him," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said during an emotional press conference Sunday that Fernández's teammates also attended. "When he pitched… you just see that little kid that you see when you watch kids play Little League or something like that. That's the joy that Jose played with."
Marlins Manager Don Mattingly tearfully remembers the life and legacy of José Fernández. pic.twitter.com/BeuYgxHPHV— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 25, 2016