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Former Alonso ace Jose Fernandez and Marlins agree to terms just before draft signing deadline

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Mon. August 15, 2011 | Eduardo A. Encina

Former Alonso ace Jose Fernandez and Marlins agree to terms just before draft signing deadline

In the poker game that is the waning hours before the Major League Baseball draft signing deadline, former Alonso ace Jose Fernandez still came out on top Monday evening.

During the nine-week stretch since the Florida Marlins made Fernandez the 14th overall pick -- the highest selection from Hillsborough County in 14 years -- it appeared the sides were far apart on a deal. Fernandez reportedly wanted a $4 million signing bonus, and the Marlins wouldn't balk from the $1.6 million figure slotted by Major League Baseball.

As other first-rounders also remained unsigned, it would become a waiting game -- seemingly destined for an 11th-hour decision.

If unsigned, Fernandez could go pitch at USF. Or a more likely scenario, he could blow away junior college competition for a year and re-enter the draft. But the Marlins knew what they had -- a potential franchise cornerstone with a 98-mph fastball and uncommon resilience, a Cuban defector who would be embraced in Miami's Cuban community. And it had been Fernandez's dream long before he escaped Cuba to become a pro ballplayer in America.

So late Monday night -- cards all on the table -- the sides reached to a compromise and Fernandez agreed to a $2 million bonus, according to his adviser Rich Arena.

In a text message to the Times at 11:07 p.m. Monday night -- less than an hour before the deadline -- Arena announced a deal had been done. He later confirmed that Fernandez agreed to a $2 million bonus, which is about 25 percent more than MLB's suggested slot money for that pick.

The Marlins agreed to give Fernandez the sixth-highest bonus in club history, just behind the likes of Josh Beckett ($3.625 million), Adrian Gonzalez ($3 million) and Livan Hernandez ($2.5 million), the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel reported.

Fernandez, a Cuban defector who guided Alonso to two Class 6A state titles in his three seasons there, was 13-1 this spring with a 1.35 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 93 innings. He also had nine complete-game wins, including four shutouts. At the plate, he hit .404 with nine homers and 35 RBIs, all team highs. Fernandez held opposing hitters to a .155 batting average.

Fernandez finished his three-year high school career with a 30-3 record, including a flawless 10-0 career mark in the postseason.

He was also a MaxPreps All-American as well as the Gatorade Florida Player of the Year and the Florida Dairy Farmers Mr. Baseball.

Fernandez was the county’s highest selection since 1997, when the Mets selected Jesuit pitcher Geoff Goetz with the sixth overall pick.

Fernandez also is the first non-supplemental first-round pick from Hillsborough County since current Twins centerfielder Denard Span was taken 20th overall out of Tampa Catholic in 2002.

-- EDUARDO A. ENCINA (eencina@sptimes.com; Twitter: @EddieHometeam

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