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Yankees Arizona Fall League preview: Jasson Domínguez heads west

The Yankees’ 19-year-old top prospect headlines an interesting group of young talent headed out to the AFL.

Syndication: Westchester County Journal News Frank Becerra Jr. / The Journal News / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Yankees’ regular season may be coming to an end, but out west, there’s one league that’s just getting started. Today marks Opening Day for the Arizona Fall League, an MLB-operated offseason league that gives prospects from across the minors a chance to continue their seasons and hone their craft.

Yankees prospects play for the Mesa Solar Sox, along with representatives from the Athletics, Cubs, Marlins, and Rays. Let’s take a look at which Yankee farmhands will be featured, including one of the starriest prospects in the game.

Any analysis of the Yankees’ AFL squad will have to start with Jasson Domínguez. The 19-year-old just navigated his first year of full-season professional ball, and a second-half surge has fans and scouts alike excited about his progress and future.

Domínguez finished 2022 with a .273/.376/.461 slash line combined across three levels, having started the year with Low-A Tampa and receiving a late-season promotion to Double-A Somerset. He totaled 16 homers, 46 extra-base hits, and 37 steals. Those numbers are strong on their own, given Domínguez was in just his second pro season, and faced competition that was almost exclusively older than him.

But what’s most impressive is the way Domínguez improved throughout the year. Check out these season splits, courtesy of our former prospect guru Dan Kelly:

Prior to August, Domínguez was still showing the swing-and-miss that many evaluators had highlighted as a crucial flaw in his game, striking out in 28 percent of his plate appearances. From August on, however, Domínguez struck out in 17.7 percent of his PA’s, while walking nearly 15 percent of the time, all while facing pitchers that were on average about four years older than him. He maintained a .997 OPS over that span.

That performance has Domínguez looking like one of the top 25 or so prospects on the planet. It will be fascinating to see him continue in the AFL, to get a feel for whether he can keep up these improved contact skills. If he plays in Arizona the way he did down the stretch, the hype surrounding Domínguez will only grow as he looks to conquer the high minors next year.

Domínguez still does have things to work on, such as his play against left-handed pitchers. Southpaws have given him trouble during his pro career, and he hit just against them .221/.329/.353 in 2022. It would be encouraging to see Domínguez continue to close the gaps in his game when he heads west.

The rest of the prospect group the Yankees are sending is relatively weak behind Domínguez. Perhaps the most interesting name after The Martian is first baseman T.J. Rumfield. Much of the intrigue around the 22-year-old stems from his lack of experience, as Rumfield has seen only a few hundred plate appearances as a pro, and only recorded 280 plate appearances in college.

Despite his inexperience, he hit .281/.384/.411 with High-A Hudson Valley this year, and FanGraphs credits him as having “no-doubt big-league physicality and power.” If he can tap into his raw power as he gets more looks at professional pitching, Rumfield could turn into a prospect of note.

On the pitching side, Leam Mendez stands out as the most interesting names to watch. The 22-year-old right-hander has only reached Low-A Tampa, and his 4.30 ERA in 29 pro innings doesn’t exactly stand out. He did run a solid 37-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2022, however, and writes that Mendez was “missing bats with a 92-95 mph fastball with riding action and flashing a promising mid-80s splitter.” The Yankees have shown a proclivity for helping unheralded minor league arms take surprising leaps, and there’s certainly a chance Mendez ends up being another one of those success stores.

Elsewhere, third baseman Tyler Hardman will look to maintain a second-half surge of his own. Taken in the fifth round of the 2021 MLB Draft as a first baseman out of the University of Oklahoma, Hardman has taken well to the hot corner, and used a hot summer at High-A to earn a late-season promotion. Hardman managed a .891 OPS for Hudson Valley from June 1 on.

Rounding out the Bombers contingent in Arizona are right-handers Nelson Alvarez, Yorlin Calderon, and Shaine McNeely. Alvarez was the Yankees’ 13th round pick in 2019, and the 24-year-old spent the entirety of his 2022 at High-A. He showed fairly well, with a 2.89 ERA in 52 innings as a reliver, but struggled with control, and was on the older side for the level. He’s running out of time to establish himself as a prospect of interest.

Calderon flashed in 2022, earning a promotion to Low-A and maintaining a 2.84 ERA in 19 innings as a starter. Most notably, he threw a seven-inning no-hitter earlier this year for Tampa. Listed at 6-foot-3 and just 155 pounds, Calderon would appear to have room to fill out and add strength to his frame.

McNeely was the Yankees’ 16th round pick in 2019, and has seen limited run as a pro. He tossed just 15.1 innings in 2022, split between Low-A and the Florida Complex League, allowing 11 runs in the process. McNeely was one of the older players at both levels, and will look to jumpstart his performance in the AFL.

Ultimately, Domínguez will be the Yankee prospect to watch in the AFL this year, looking to build off a strong campaign. That said, there’s other talent to watch, with a handful of other prospects also trying to maintain momentum from quality 2022 seasons.