Promoting prospects too soon: Is Jasson Dominguez ready for the Yankees?

March 8, 2023

Is Jasson Dominguez ready for the big leagues?


Is that OK?


Cover the minors long enough, and any time a prospect of any significance gets hot, the replies on social media are pretty predictable.

In short?

Call him up!

If only it were always that simple.  In some cases, it is.  Somewhat, anyway.  Bo Naylor became the first alum of the Future Stars Series to be promoted to the big leagues just last year –with more likely on the way this year — at age 22 after multiple years at the higher levels of the minors after being drafted 29th overall by Cleveland back in 2018.

Like Naylor, most prospects play their way to the big leagues, with the days of signing bonus money dictating who got, at minimum, a cup of coffee mostly gone.  Oswaldo Cabrera rightly earned his big league promotion last year, showing constant development in the minors and finally unlocking his power tool, not to mention the defensive versatility that made him a perfect fit for the super utility role he filled last year and may again return to this season.

He was signed out of Venezuela for $100,000 — a bargain in any baseball context, but especially when you look at the numbers that are being handed out now — and has already produced enough at the big-league level to more that cover that investment.

The investment in Dominguez is not similar, albeit one that plays zero role in how he’s viewed in the organization; the Yankees used nearly all of their international budget on his $5.1 million signing bonus back in 2019, and to be very clear, it’s not something they’ve regretted doing for a second.

It’s also something that, along with the reports that were coming out of the Dominican about him at the time, created an unworldly amount of hype around a player that most members of the fanbase have yet to see play live.  Perhaps otherworldly, given he was quickly given “El Marciano (The Martian)” nickname, one he usually says he doesn’t know the origins of, thanks to a deep, deep toolset at a very young age.

The floor is high, but evaluators tend to vary on just how the ceiling can be.

MLB Pipeline is most bullish on Dominguez, ranking him as the organization’s No. 2 prospect, while both Baseball America and Fangraphs have him one spot lower, behind both consensus No. 1 Anthony Volpe as well as Oswald Peraza.  He is typically given a 55 hit grade, 55 arm grade, 60 power grade, and 55 speed grade with some variance on his fielding usually between 50-55.

In short, it’s all above-average to plus tools across the board right now, with potential room for growth as he continues to develop, although something almost everyone you speak to agrees on is that there’s zero room left for physical projection on a frame that’s listed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, but may see an update a few ticks up on the latter heading into 2023 as he’s continued to add thickness to his frame, something that has slightly slowed him down over time and raised concerns over a long-term ability to stick in center field.

At worst, he’s a big league regular, with comps to Melky Cabrera on the low end.

At best, he’s a perennial All-Star, with comps to Mike Trout that he regularly eschews at least coming close to fruition down the road.

At either, he’s not ready to show which end of the spectrum he’s going to fall on just yet.

Because for all of the numbers we just went through, there’s one important one that we haven’t looked at just yet.  Dominguez just turned 20 years old on February 7, which would have put him one full year behind Wander Franco, who, at 21 years old, was the youngest player to open last season in the big leagues.  Even with losing a season to the COVID year, Franco got 224 games in the minors before a mid-year promotion in 2021 that, yes, occurred at age 20.

In a position-by-position list of the youngest possible all-time Yankees lineup, only Jesus Montero was in the modern era, and that was at DH, a spot he debuted at when he was still only 21 years old.

That COVID year?  It also let him skip Double-A entirely — sorry, Montgomery — allowing him to develop at a higher level before what he was doing at Durham simply couldn’t be ignored.

Dominguez has five games at Double-A or above, wrapping up last year in a semi-surprising call-up with Somerset; he struggled in a small regular season sample size, but utterly dominated in an equally small postseason sample size, hitting home runs from both sides of the plate in a stunning Championship Game performance that brought the Somerset Patriots their first Eastern League title.

It was a flash of what he can be, a look at how high the ceiling can be, how he can singlehandedly take over a game, even at 19 years old and likely a level above what was age-appropriate for him.

The Arizona Fall League was a look at the work that still needs to be done before he’d somehow be ready for the big leagues right now.

Dominguez put up a .159/.250./217 slash line in 80 plate appearances in the AFL this year with no home runs and only four extra-base hits facing arms that were consistently among the top in each organization, and also exhibited some of what scouts are worried the most about with him; his swing-and-miss rate.  He posted a 21.25 K% in those 80 PA’s — which is actually below the Yankees big league rate of 23.0 — and actually had a slightly higher number at 24.15% in mostly splitting the year between Hudson Valley and Tampa.

While he can certainly be a fine big leaguer even if those numbers don’t come down, especially with a penchant to pitch him up and in, he’d be well served to refine his approach a bit.  The perfect place to do so, of course, would be the minors, and he’s almost surely set to begin the 2023 season where he left off in Somerset, with a mid-season promotion to Scranton not out of the question.

So, why are we even having this conversation?

Because, sample size aside in this instance, what he’s doing in big league camp can’t be ignored.  6-for-14, two homers, a stolen base and a 1.357 OPS.  It is tantalizing for Yankees fans, especially those who see a fit in left field — many evaluators feel this is where Dominguez will eventually end up anyway, perhaps too bulky and awkward in his routes for center — in wanting to get rid of Aaron Hicks, to see that and see what he can do in the big league level, to see the still-developing tools that have a higher ceiling than many they’re currently rostering.

It isn’t hard to find some on social media who believe the only reason the Yankees won’t do it is because they’re manipulating his service time, which is a conversation not worth getting into in any space, no less here, the vitriol directed by some in the fanbase by those who confuse saying a player isn’t ready yet with that somehow meaning you don’t like him, don’t believe in him, don’t think he can perhaps one day reach a ceiling that wasn’t even set to the clouds, it was set all the way to damn Mars.

The Yankees are waiting.

It’s OK if you do too.

Mike Ashmore
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