Coming off a 12-6 season with a 2.19 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, as well as Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, Jose Fernandez was a hot candidate to be the No. 1 pick in the I-75 League’s 2014 draft. Mike Wilson wanted Jose Fernandez to anchor his rebuilding Hickory franchise’s pitching staff, but he feared Fernandez wouldn’t last until his fourth overall pick.
Destin had that top pick, and Wilson dangled third baseman Evan Longoria, as well as picks No. 4 and 204, and Destin manager Mark Gergel agreed to surrender the overall No. 1 pick, plus No. 40 and No. 152.
But Wilson wasn’t done with scooping up young fireballers; with the 54th pick overall that year, he also drafted Yordano Ventura, who in only 15 innings in 2013 had dropped jaws with a fastball with wicked movement that was hitting 100 mph.
Hernandez’s injury struggles, as well as some unexpectedly poor performances from other expected rebuilding blocks like Wil Myers (taken No. 3 overall by Hickory in 2014), outfielder Marcell Ozuna (taken No. 40 overall by Hickory in 2014) and outfielder Gregory Polanco (No. 3 overall in 2015) stalled Hickory’s rebuilding effort, and Wilson bowed out of the league following the 2015 season.
With two other clubs dropping out of the league and three new clubs joining for 2016, both Fernandez and Ventura were exposed in the dispersal draft, and Dyersville manager Ryan Renbarger, after considering his options, decided on a long-term strategy, opting for youth in his selections and counting on a down-the-road payoff. After selecting A.J. Pollock and Troy Tulowitzki with his first two picks, Renbarger followed that up with two young arms that he hoped would be the rotation foundation for the next decade: Fernandez with his third pick, Ventura with his fourth.
Fernandez, as you no doubt are aware, was killed in a boating accident in Miami Sept. 25 at age 24. And on Sunday, Ventura, just 25, was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.
While the loss of a player to a Strat team can’t compare to the emotions the Marlins felt over Fernandez or the Kansas City Royals over Ventura, Strat managers still build up a connection to their stars, rooting for them in real life so they’ll do well on their Strat teams.