For years, Jose Fernandez and his family dreamed about leaving Cuba behind.
A little more than three years after finally escaping on a tiny boat, another dream came true for Fernandez on Monday night. The 18-year old pitcher from Tampa Alonso High School was drafted by the Florida Marlins with the 14th overall pick in the first round of Major League Baseball's Amateur Draft.
Fernandez, a 6-3, 215-pound right-hander who grew up in Santa Clara, Cuba, has a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball that ranges between 92 and 97 miles per hour, a breaking ball that has a nice bite to it and a changeup that is a work in progress. But none of it may be as good as his story.
According to the Tampa Tribune, Fernandez tried to flee Cuba four times with his mother and sister. He was jailed once for those attempts. During one attempt to flee, his family was 10 miles off the coast of Miami before being intercepted by the Coast Guard and sent back to Cuba.
Another time, his mother, Maritza, fell into the Atlantic Ocean after a wave slammed into their boat. Not knowing who was in the water, Fernandez dove in to save a person he knew needed help.
"When you come in that boat, it's hard," Fernandez told the Tampa Tribune. "You have to be a man. You have to make some big decisions that a lot of kids 14, 15, 16 years old don't make. So I made that decision when I saw somebody fall from the boat. I didn't even know it was my mom."
According to documents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Jose, Maritza and his sister, Yadenis, left Cuba for the final time on the night of March 20, 2008. Following several days at sea, they arrived in a wooded area near Cancun, Mexico, in a boat holding eight passengers. Days later, they bused to the U.S. border in Hidalgo, Texas, through Vera Cruz and Reynosa, Mexico, reaching their destination April 5.
What he's already been through is just part of the reason the Marlins believe they found themselves a tough, talented and up-and-coming pitcher.
"One of the things you look for in a high school kid -- going through the minor leagues there's a lot of adversity. There's a lot of things they have to go through that a normal kid hasn't had any experience with. He's faced a lot worse things than anything he'll face going through our system," said Jim Fleming, Vice President of Player Development and Scouting for the Marlins.
"You've got to feel the way he dealt with that, he's going to deal with the day to day struggles of baseball very well. He pitches with no fear and very aggressive and you see a confident air to him we really like."
Fernandez is also a winner. He led Alonso to the Class 6A state championship twice, including last month. As a senior, he was 13-1 with a 1.35 ERA and 134 strikeouts. In three years at Alonso, Fernandez was 30-3 with 314 strikeouts.
"We liked everything about him," Fleming said. "We saw the film of him. He's a big, strong kid with pitches in place. His fastball runs anywhere from 92 to 97. We have what we think is a plus breaking ball. He throws strikes, he has a really good feel to pitch, which a lot of times with a high school kid with that kind of stuff that's still developing. You can see he's going to have good command. If you know anything about his background, the adversity he's been through, he has good work ethic. He looks to be good. It was just kind of a guy that excited from the first day."
The Marlins haven't had a great deal of success lately with first round picks. Since 2001, only outfielder Jeremy Hermida (2002) and right-hander Chris Volstad (2005) have become regulars on the big league roster.
Fernandez is the second pitcher the Marlins have taken with their first pick in the last three years and the fifth straight high school player they've used their first pick on.