Having a nickname like “The Martian” could be easily misconstrued. Perhaps a moniker like that would be used on a person who is generally strange or exhibits odd behavior, and it is not meant to paint that person in a positive light. But Jasson Domínguez acquired this nickname as more of a compliment. Taken literally, a Martian is someone we’ve never seen before, someone not of this world. A name like that gets attached to you when you possess the kind of physical gifts Domínguez did at 16-years-old.
The scouting scale that runs from 20 to 80 is frequently used to describe the tools position players have. There are typically five tools: hitting, power, speed, throwing arm, and defense. The 20 at the bottom of the scale is just about irrelevant, because players with tools grading out that low aren’t prospects. The middle of the scale, or 50, is considered average, but average is good because it refers to the average ability of a major league player.
The top of the scale is reserved for elite abilities, and it should be used sparingly. When a player’s tools are described as “plus,” that means they would be graded at 60, or solidly above average, and “double plus” would then be graded at 70. Those grades can refer to the physical traits of amateurs and minor-leaguers that aren’t yet actualized into performance, so in a way they indicate potential, whereas for a player in the big leagues they point more toward what he is now. For instance, scouting grades on Aaron Judge would likely have him as a 60 hitter with 80 power, at least 60 defense with a 70 arm, and a 50 runner. That’s an MVP in the big leagues.
The reason I’m laying this out is to emphasize that the first reports of Jasson Domínguez out of the Dominican Republic described him as having 70-grade power, speed, defense, and arm to go with a 60 for hitting as a 16-year-old, switch-hitting center fielder. In other words, The Martian was born.
As fun as it is to dream about a player with that combination of physical traits, it creates unrealistic expectations. Throwing out the names of Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout can give us a sense of what a player with that set of physical tools might be, but they don’t help in the evaluation of a teenager who has never played a professional game. Before he played one inning, the hype about Domínguez was as great or greater than it has been for any player in the Yankees organization in the last four decades. Of course, it was fascinating to wonder how his tools would manifest themselves on the field, but since he signed a contract in July of 2019, we had to wait until 2020 to even read about him in a box score. Then the pandemic hit, and the wait continued.
Domínguez’s eagerly anticipated pro debut came on June 28, 2021 in the Florida Complex League. After seven unremarkable games, he was promoted to the Low-A Tampa Tarpons for his first taste of full-season baseball in the minor leagues. At 18-years-old, Domínguez was 3.4 years younger than the average player in his league, and he slashed .258/.346/.398 with five home runs in 49 games. Scouts who saw him criticized his body as being too bulky and doubted his future abilities. His double-plus grades dropped to average. Baseball America removed him from their list of the top 100 prospects in the game. It was a rough reception for a player who would have been playing his senior season in high school if he had been born in the United States.
Judging players you read about on the internet is tricky business. There are complicating factors to scouting reports. Some scouts are put off by players who are over-hyped and maybe grade them too harshly. Some reports come from evaluators who saw one or two games, and maybe they were the wrong games to see. Many reports leave out underlying information that would help put certain points into context.
Maybe Domínguez did get bulky before the 2021 season, but perhaps that was a product of the long layoff and a result of how hard he works in the weight room. Maybe that impacted his speed and throwing arm and took a toll on his defense, too. Dominguez was facing professional pitching for the first time, and, coming from the Dominican Republic, may not have played competitive baseball under lights at night before. He’s also a switch-hitter, which means he has two swings to develop instead of one. Yankee staff members expressed no disappointment with Domínguez in 2021, rather discussing his aptitude and work ethic and his high quality as a teammate and person.
We learned in 2021 that Domínguez was unlikely to be a transcendent player, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a very good player. His second season should absolutely have fans thinking along those lines. At 19-years-old, Domínguez put up a combined line of .273/.376/.461 at three different stops. He began the year in Low-A and finished it in Double-A. He hit 16 homers, scored 92 times, and stole 37 bases.
Though the public scouting reports didn’t update during the season, a trip to see Domínguez in-person showed speed that was obviously above average, an arm that played that way too, and legitimate power as the ball jumped off his bat from both sides of the plate. Beyond that, you saw a player who put together mature at-bats and made adjustments as the game progressed. A pitch he chased in his first at-bat was a take in his second. This calls to mind a story told by Will Warren, a top Yankee pitching prospect, in an interview with NJ.com. He remembered striking out Domínguez in spring training, only to see him hit the ball hard in his next at-bat and homer in his third. Coaches told him he made the mistake of not changing his sequence against Domínguez . As Warren recalls it, the coaches told him “Domínguez is not like a normal hitter. He’s going to remember that and he’s going to hit you.”
The scouting grades on Domínguez are ticking up again. He’s now talked about as an above-average hitter with plus power, who can stay in center field with plus speed and instincts and display an arm that would play in right. There is growing confidence that Domínguez is on track to being an everyday player in the big leagues, and stardom is still a possibility.
Domínguez finished the 2022 season with a spectacular performance in the postseason for Somerset. He slashed .450/.560/.950 with three homers, 10 RBI, five walks, and seven runs scored in five games. In the championship-clinching game, Domínguez went 3-for-4, homered from each side of the plate, and drove in six runs. His postseason dominance notwithstanding, Domínguez played only ten games in Somerset, and it is likely he returns there for the 2023 season. He’ll play the year at 20-years-old, which will make him one of the youngest players in Double-A, and it will not be disappointing if he spends the whole season in Somerset. Double-A is considered a separator for players, and if Domínguez conquers that level this year you can start the countdown to when he appears in the Bronx, especially since he is likely to be added to the 40-man roster after this season.
There have been too many attempts to predict what Domínguez will be, and those predictions will inevitably continue this year, but in the meantime he is a gifted and fun player to watch, a legitimate big-league prospect, and someone fans should be glad is in the Yankees organization.
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