Beyond The Tools: An Inside Look At Yankees Outfielder Jasson Dominguez
BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic — It's easy to be captivated by Jasson Dominguez.
He looks like a running back with a dense, muscular build, like a shorter version of Yoan Moncada with comparable tools. And those tools are phenomenal. It's a blend of power, speed and arm strength that all earn plus or better grades. He's an explosive, quick-burst athlete who plays a premium position in center field.
Those tools helped Dominguez earn a $5.1 million bonus from the Yankees when they signed him out of the Dominican Republic on July 2, a bonus tied with Athletics shortstop Robert Puason for the largest of the current 2019-20 international signing period.
"He’s possibly the best combination of tools, athleticism and performance that I’ve run across," Yankees international scouting director Donny Rowland said. "Now, there's a whole lot of time, a whole lot of at-bats and a whole lot of proving it between now and hopefully reaching the major leagues. Given his baseball background, his baseball acumen, his desire, his competitive nature, his work ethic, it’s never an easy thing to drop $5.1 million on one player, but he made it pretty easy."
It's easy to gush about Dominguez's tools and athleticism. Deservedly so. But underneath it all is a baseball rat. Watching him longer, it's clear that Dominguez is more than just a raw athlete, but a relatively polished baseball player for 16, someone who has been playing in games his whole life. He has developed a clock for the game and a baseball IQ that's advanced for his age and could help him move quickly, like the paths his compatriots Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Wander Franco have taken.
"It’s almost like taking the best of anybody that you have," said Mario Garza, the Yankees director of Latin American operations, "and then it’s all in one guy."
Dominguez began playing baseball in his hometown of Mao.
"My dad always took me to the field," Dominguez said. "That’s the reason why I played, because of my dad. But the age I really started playing seriously was when I was eight.
"Before I was eight, I was just in little league baseball, just having fun. But at 8 years old, I started in a program playing against older kids and facing better competition."
Dominguez's first coach was Winder Abreu—known as Rumy—and it was under Rumy that Dominguez started switch-hitting.
"When I was eight, I was messing around, playing in a little field we had, playing with a sock," Dominguez said. "I turned around, just to hit lefty, with my hands crossed. I was barely eight. A random old guy from the neighborhood tried to explain it to me (to reverse my hands). I started bugging Rumy about it, saying, 'Hey, I want to swing lefthanded.' So one day Rumy gave me five swings. That’s where it all started."
From age eight until the time he was 12, Dominguez was a catcher.
"I was not that tall," Dominguez said. "Kind of chubby. So they put me behind the plate."
Dominguez played in games. Lots of games. He traveled around the Dominican Republic, especially in the northern region of the Cibao, playing in games and tournaments in places like Monte Cristi, Moca and Puerto Plata.
"I was basically playing baseball on a daily basis, from Sunday to Sunday," Dominguez said. 'That’s what I used to do. Sometimes we couldn’t get to play every day, but we would play two to three games a week every time. The least we would play is two or three games a week, in a week where we couldn’t play a lot."
At around 11 or 12 years old, Dominguez said, scouts with major league teams started showing interest in him. Shortly before he turned 13, Dominguez moved to Santo Domingo to train with Ivan Noboa.
"Practice with Rumy was already hard practice—it was very tough," Dominguez said. "So there were a couple new things for me, like the gym and heavy bats, those were new to me, something I had to learn. But the workload, I didn’t have a problem, because I was used to working a lot."
Interest in Dominguez from MLB clubs grew while he trained with Noboa. One day at Noboa's field, there was a workout involving players from other programs, including Dominican outfielder Larry Ernesto, who would go on to sign with the Brewers for $1.7 million in 2017.
"He was a very good player," Dominguez said. "At that point, they were more interested in Larry. All the attention was going to him, and I felt competition. He was hitting balls out, he was shagging in center field. I remember that motivated me. When I came to hit, I hit a home run to center field the first pitch. Then when I ran—and Ernesto was a good runner as well—I never ran a 6.4 before. The clock had me at 6.4 or high 6.3s. I remember that day as a breaking point of competing against other kids."
The Yankees spent years scouting Dominguez. They have a large international scouting staff that's among the most thorough in baseball, with the results to show from the lower levels up to the big leagues with the likes of Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino and Miguel Andujar. Scouts throughout their international department were immediately excited by Dominguez. That only grew as they built more history with Dominguez, watching him play in games or simulated games.
"In the showcases that Ivan Noboa would run, he would bring in sim game pitchers, and the pitchers he brought in were more advanced, better than competition you would see in showcases," Rowland said. "He repeatedly dominated. He never looked overmatched, he never looked panicky. It was his batters box, his plate. He repeatedly put quality swings on pretty good stuff. One day I saw him turn around 95 from the left side and hit a ball 400-plus feet at 15 years old.
"They go through a pretty strict regimen of heavy-bat usage, like a weighted ball for a pitcher. They overtrain with heavy bats to increase bat speed. It’s a very intensive program. So he’s obviously got incredible strong hands, incredibly strong wrists and forearms. But the performance was consistent, and it was against, quite frankly, better stuff than what we see a lot of times in showcases and tournaments."
Dominguez soon established himself as the best player in the 2019 class, not just for the Yankees, but many other clubs. At 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, Dominguez is an elite athlete in center field with 70-grade speed on the 20-80 scouting scale and an explosive first step. His accurate arm earns plus to plus-plus grades.
"It’s explosive power, but he doesn’t do it gritting his teeth with full effort or maximum effort," Rowland said. "It’s pretty easy, explosive power. Athletically, the guy is explosive out of the gate. He runs a 6.4 or sub-6.4 60. He has a lightning fast arm. He has quick twitch everywhere. It’s just explosion everywhere. He’s a premium athlete, and he has been since day one."
The Yankees scouted Dominguez as an outfielder, a shortstop and a catcher. They liked him behind the plate, where his outstanding arm strength and quickness stood out. They thought he could develop into a legitimate shortstop if he moved there. But they loved him in center field, a position that would take less of a toll on his body, his speed and potentially his hitting.
"It's just completely natural, completely easy," Rowland said. "Excellent glove work, very good routes and obviously closing speed in every direction. The glove work is just extremely easy and sure, sometimes almost nonchalant. We’re projecting a well above-average defensive center fielder."
In limited time, Dominguez has continued to impress player development with his skills in center field.
"The best play I remember seeing is, he was just on the right-center side, looking from home plate," Garza said. "He ran a ball down in the gap from a lefthanded hitter that was slicing away from him that was about as clean of a route as could be, and we saw the explosive speed kick in."
There's the wheels, the arm, the glove and then there's the power. Dominguez has a combination of strength and bat speed that produces elite impact for his age.
"The first time I saw him take BP, he was 107, 108 (mph exit velocities) from both sides of the plate," Garza said. "He was spraying balls all over, gap-to-gap swing from both sides. Just the way he moves was impressive. I’m now even more impressed after seeing some game (at-bats), because I haven’t seen a kid that young be able to put together his ‘A swing’ as consistently in games as Jasson does. It’s impressive. And also I think he has a great feel for the strike zone, with no panic in the box. Everything’s under control, it’s efficient and it’s explosive.
"Even the really good 16-, 17-year-old players that we’ve had come through here really get into a ball and it’s low 100s. And that’s more occasional. There was one day he had three (at-bats) and he went 100-plus three times. You just don’t see that from a 16-year-old."
The Yankees play a brief slate of games at Dominican instructional league, but Dominguez made an immediate impression. On Oct. 2 at home against the Giants, with rain pouring and Dominguez rubbing his bat on his pants after each pitch trying to stay dry, he led off the game by pulling a home run to left field, his first unofficial home run as a Yankee.
"I fouled off the first pitch," Dominguez said. "When the pitcher was warming up, I saw he was kind of out of the zone, so I was there looking for one good pitch. In 2-1, I was looking for a changeup or a breaking ball, thinking that he might not throw me a fastball in a fastball count. The pitch was high, so I took it for a ball. In 3-1, he threw me a fastball inside. When I hit it, I knew the ball was going to leave the yard, but it was not my best contact. I didn't get it. I didn't square the ball up."
It landed in the trees.
"Very rarely do you see him slap at something searching for a single," Rowland said. "He will protect with two strikes, he does have that awareness, but the bottom line is he wants to punish something. He’s always looked that way, from the first time I saw him until the day I signed him."
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Beyond The Tools
The raw power is obvious, but the way Dominguez approached his at-bat and waited for his pitch was advanced. It's something the Yankees have become accustomed to seeing.
"Plate discipline," Garza said. "I rarely see him chase, if ever. His timing is consistent. He’s always on time, he sees the ball well, he sees spin. A lot of young guys, it’s an adjustment period to game at-bats, and they’re seeing a mix of pitches coming at them and he just seems to be on everything."
It's part of what makes Dominguez different. There are other power/speed threats who sign every year out of Latin America, but Dominguez's ability to consistently translate that power in games is unusual.
"He’s always had pre-pitch rhythmic movement, which I’ve never had a problem with, because he always seems to be on time," Rowland said. "He knows how to get his bat started, he knows when to get it started. He sees the ball very well. He never looked overmatched, even against low- to mid-90s fastballs at a very young age.
"I think the swing path is very good. His launch angle is pushing anywhere between 18 and 21 degrees on virtually all our data collection, and that’s over a long period of time. He has a very good path. I think that’s part of the reason he’s had high-level performance. He squares a lot of balls up, his bat is in the zone a long time and he has the ability to get the ball airborne. Factor in his exit velos with the ability to get the ball airborne and make consistent quality contact, the result is a lot of extra-base hits."
With the Yankees closing their Dominican instructional league after the second week of October, the next step for Dominguez is strength camp. Dominguez looks like he should be the one teaching strength camp. He's relatively physically mature for his age, but his present tools are already elite.
"In terms of getting better, we never stop learning," Dominguez said. "We can always improve in something, so I’ll keep working on everything. But something I have to be very careful of is my food, what I eat, my nutrition. To keep my body in shape, to not lose the running tool, and keep good care of my body."
The Yankees keep their kitchen stocked with avocados, a staple in Dominguez's diet and his unofficial logo. He posts his love for avocados on his Instagram account, to the point where he and his teammates wear #TeamAguacate shirts.
"I first tried them when I was a little kid" Dominguez said. "At first, I didn't like them. But when I started growing up, I fell in love with it. I started having fun with it, and it's gone viral."
Dominguez has quickly bonded with his teammates, including older Latin American players in the organization. His tools may be flashy, but Dominguez isn't a flashy person.
On the morning of July 2, Dominguez signed his contract at the Yankees' academy. At night, the team held a bigger signing ceremony to publicly announce his signing. The next day, Dominguez returned to Noboa's field. He kept a glove, a bat and a pair of spikes for himself, then proceeded to give away the rest of his gear to the kids training there. Gloves, bats, extra cleats, workout clothes, baseball clothes. The gesture left those in attendance in tears.
"I came to really respect his work ethic, his respect for the game, his desire, his commitment," Rowland said. "I never once saw him take a day off. I never once saw him go out there and go through the motions. I never once saw him go out there and not give it everything he has. He has pride in himself, pride in his game. He respects the game, he respects his teammates. He loves to play the game, and he loves to play it well. He’s very hard on himself. When he does not have the kind of round in BP he wants—or even little things, like where the first round is all (to the opposite field)—if he’s not squaring balls up and if he's not hitting balls out of the park (to the opposite field), you can see the look on his face. Usually the next round is a lot better.
"I kept waiting for something to give me pause. He never gave it to me."