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Putting Jasson Dominguez’s 2021 in context

It’s fair to be concerned about the hype, but he’s a long way from being a bust.

2021 Sirius XM Futures Game Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

I generally try not to care about prospects until they hit Double-A. That jump is widely seen as the toughest to make, and the first time you can get real projections of how a guy might do in the majors. But every so often, a player comes along that you just have to keep tabs on, even at the lowest levels of the minors, and one of those players is Jasson Dominguez.

You all know the comps and the backstory and the nicknames, and you probably know that he’s been a little underwhelming in his first taste of pro ball. He has a .728 OPS at Tampa, but perhaps more concerning is the 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio, and an overall strikeout rate of 32 percent. Despite what some people think “the analytics” say, strikeouts do matter, especially at the lower levels of the minors. Simple contact ability means a lot at A-ball, because the pitching only gets better from here.

Prospect rankings are divided on Dominguez, with midseason MLB Pipeline rankings slotting him as the 16th overall, and second best, in the Yankee system. Baseball America has him 39th overall, and Baseball Prospectus the outlier, slotting him outside the top 50 and according to the site’s own senior evaluator, he was never close to making the top 50. The consensus opinion is that he drips raw talent, but there remains a delta in how he’ll be able to convert that potential into consistent play.

Even his consistency, when seen, leaves a little to be desired. He just rattled off a 10-game hitting streak, capping the stretch with a long home run. However, Tuesday’s game was also the first time he avoided striking out in any game since August 13th — so really, he’d built a consistent offensive run, while consistently struggling to avoid being punched out.

It’s hard to compare players at that level to the majors, and there are particular caveats to this season that need to be included in evaluating Dominguez that we’ll get to in a moment. Still, the players that Dominguez has been compared to have had wildly different runs in A-ball. Ronald Acuña Jr., who had 40 games in A-ball as an 18-year-old, notched an .819 OPS, with a 1.6 SO/W ratio. In fact, we can compare some of the recent uber-prospects of the last decade, who all played at A-ball in their age-18 season, just like Dominguez is now:

Now, it’s fair to ding me for arbitrary comparisons, since I’m not holding Dominguez up against the players he’s currently playing against. These guys are the best players in baseball today, but they were hyped prospects the same way that Dominguez was. In fact, the two least-hyped, Juan Soto and Mike Trout, had the best years in A-Ball. But they were all playing at the same level, at the same age, and their age-18 season was the year they made serious jumps in all three major prospect rankings — and they’re the type of players that Dominguez has been compared to, fairly or not.

The strikeouts and overall plate discipline should immediately jump out to you. This collection of six hitters, on the whole, walked virtually as often as they struck out. The weighted average of their OPS was over .900, 172 points better than the Martian’s. These are major differences!

However, context does matter, and it starts with that bolded column. Everyone on the list had plate appearances in rookie ball in their age-17 season; sometimes hundreds of professional plate appearances before making the jump to A. Every player just had more professional experience than Dominguez, who of course wasn’t even stateside last season because of that whole global pandemic, and we need to factor that in to evaluations.

There are also the broader changes to the minor leagues, starting with the abolition of short-season ball that otherwise would have been the landing spot for 2021 draftees. Instead, they’re playing in Rookie ball, and a few have advanced past that — 4 of the 16 first round position players have advanced beyond Rookie ball, including the Yankees’ first round pick, Trey Sweeney ... who is playing in Tampa with Dominguez, with a .903 OPS and 17:13 K:BB rate, albeit in his age-21 season, not 18. This injection of talent makes the lowest level of the minor leagues more competitive.

So Dominguez has been disappointing this season, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way. But there are enough caveats — both specific to Dominguez’s experience and the changing landscape of MiLB in totality — that it’s too early to make any real judgments about his future. He’ll likely need more time in A-Ball next season, and that’s ok.

In a way, we’re at the same place we were in November, when I wrote about how we just don’t know enough about Dominguez to feel one way or the other about his potential. He’s shown what he can accomplish in pro ball — at his best, this 10-game hitting streak has him with an .881 OPS, putting him much closer to those comps in the above table. He’s also shown that he’s probably struggling with plate discipline, and that’s a very real thing to watch as he acclimatizes and advances.

We’re probably not seeing Dominguez in the majors in 2022 — shocking, I know. He’s probably not the literal walking reincarnation of Mickey Mantle — again, shocking. But he’s playing in a tougher environment and with less experience than most of the guys he’s been compared against. The final verdict is that we just have to see more, see whether the gains made in this hot streak are permanent, and getting him up to the 300-400 professional PAs that other uber-prospects successfully reached before experts began to project them as stars.