Here is today’s reminder that the Miami Marlins are playing a different game than everybody else. Saddled with unexpected injuries in their starting rotation, the Marlins opted to promote from within to fill their five-man unit to start the year.

Rather than pulling one of the warm bodies from their triple-A affiliate, the Marlins moved their top pitching prospect Jose Fernandez all the way from single-A to the Opening Day roster. The 20-year old will make his big league debut on Sunday in New York against the Mets. Service time be damned, it seems.

Not just service time but experience against skilled batters. Jose Fernandez is no ordinary prospect, as Jason Parks and the Baseball Prospectus prospect team presciently pointed out in their Marlins report:

Not that Fernandez needs to fail in order to take a step forward, but the fastball/breaking ball combo is so electric that he can disguise mistakes and avoid exploitation, so putting himself in situations and sequences in which he is unfamiliar will be extremely beneficial.

Nobody can accuse the Marlins of being hesitant to do just that with the big armed Cuban, who features huge stuff but an unpolished approach.

Kiley McDaniel of ESPN ($) loves the way Ferndandez can throw his curveball at a variety of speeds and angles as the situation demands, showing great touch with a his big out pitch to go with his fastball which touches 98 mph with ease.

Big stuff is all well and good but there simply aren’t many pitchers who survived and thrived at the big league level at age 20. Among those who have pitched at the highest level at the tender age of 20, all of them at least made a pit stop in Double-A en route to the show.

Rk Player ERA+ IP Year Age Tm Lg GS H R BB SO ERA HR BF OPS
1 Rick Ankiel 134 175.0 2000 20 STL NL 30 137 80 90 194 3.50 21 735 .685
2 Madison Bumgarner 131 111.0 2010 20 SFG NL 18 119 40 26 86 3.00 11 472 .732
3 Zack Greinke 120 145.0 2004 20 KCR AL 24 143 64 26 100 3.97 26 599 .752
4 Rick Porcello 114 170.2 2009 20 DET AL 31 176 81 52 89 3.96 23 720 .738
5 CC Sabathia 102 180.1 2001 20 CLE AL 33 149 93 95 171 4.39 19 763 .701
6 Clayton Kershaw 98 107.2 2008 20 LAD NL 21 109 51 52 100 4.26 11 470 .756
7 Felix Hernandez 98 191.0 2006 20 SEA AL 31 195 105 60 176 4.52 23 816 .729
8 Jeremy Bonderman 78 162.0 2003 20 DET AL 28 193 118 58 108 5.56 23 727 .834
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/31/2013.

All these hurlers pitched at least 100 innings at the big leagues at age 20 (the Marlins plan to limit Fernandez to 170 innings, all at the big league level). Each one made at least a handful of starts at Double-A or above. Felix Hernandez, who made his pro debut at 17 and made 25 starts between AA and AAA, save Rick Porcello.

Rick Porcello was drafted out of high school, like all the names on this list. The Tigers moved him right to their Opening Day roster in 2009 after he made 24 starts in the Florida State league at age 19.

Year Age Tm Lg Lev Aff W L W-L% ERA GS IP H R HR BB SO BF WHIP BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2008 19 Lakeland FLOR A+ DET 8 6 .571 2.66 24 125.0 116 51 7 33 72 527 1.192 2.4 5.2 2.18
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/31/2013.

Interesting, to me anyway, is the numbers Porcello posted in high-A are eerily similar to his numbers at the big league level. Not many strikeouts, a few walks. The biggest difference being his ability to keep the ball in the park in the notoriously pitcher-friendly FSL. He made the jump but hasn’t quite developed beyond the barely-above water starter he was in his debut season.

High-A hitters might not know what to do with 98 but big league hitters certainly do. The Marlins clearly don’t pay any mind to service time concerns nor are they overly worried about the quality of their Major league club this year. Exposing Fernandez to the league now is a risk, albeit a minimal one. As per their standard MO, if he pitches well in a brief cameo, he can all but expect a ticket out of town in a few years. The Marlins Way – not for the faint of heart.