An Unfortunate Consequence
Jasson Dominguez, Courtesy of Instagram
So much about our world is upside down right now. For the first time in my life, April has begun, but Major League Baseball games have not. Most baseball media and fans have focused on the trickle of news that has developed regarding possible start dates, schedules, and rule changes for the 2020 MLB regular season. This focus is understandable, given how much all of us miss Major League Baseball, among other things.
However, so much more is at stake than initially meets the eye. As much as Yankee fans had to look forward to at the big league level in 2020, there was every bit as much reason to be excited about baseball far from the bright lights of the Bronx. The Yankees came out of the 2019 J2 signing period with the cream of the crop, signing Jasson Dominguez to a $5.1 million bonus. As I’ve discussed here at SSTN numerous times, few prospects have been evaluated and discussed in such hyperbolic terms. Already, Dominguez has been compared to Mantle, Mays, Trout, and other baseball royalty. Dominguez’s body is comparable to that of an NFL running back. His nickname, “The Martian,” implies that his physical attributes are not from this world. Workout videos show Dominguez’s natural athleticism, powerful stroke from both sides of the plate, and fluidity in the outfield. Already, a normally cautious scouting community has widely agreed that Dominguez is a top-100 prospect in the game at just 17 years old. Yankee fans, naturally, are ecstatic to have Dominguez in the system.
We speak in such wildly positive terms about Dominguez despite the fact that he has yet to play a single professional game. Rules around J2 signings prevented Dominguez from playing anything but Instructional games in the Dominican Republic after signing, but expectations were high in 2020. Dominguez impressed Yankee Major League staff during Spring Training, and he was set to begin the year in the Dominican Summer League, with the possibility that he could come stateside with a summer promotion to the Gulf Coast League. While Major League Baseball is discussing plans to return on some limited basis, which could include playing a significant number of games without fans in neutral locations with travel restrictions, there are no such plans yet for any of baseball’s affiliated minor leagues. This may be one of the most important storylines that few are discussing (credit must be given to some subscription only writers, like Keith Law at the Athletic, for writing some in-depth pieces about the impact of COVID-19 on the minor leagues). MLB had already publicly announced their vision for an extensive contraction program for the affiliated minor leagues. COVID-19 is playing into MLB’s hand.
More to the point, the projected arc that the pandemic will take likely means that affiliated minor league baseball will be hard-pressed to return until much later this year, if at all. Unlike most teams in the Major Leagues, minor league owners depend on revenue from ticket sales to survive year-to-year. Many of the teams that make up the lower-rungs of the minor leagues will struggle to survive after losing the majority of their typical revenue, making it easier for Major League Baseball to contract many of the rookie ball levels. All of this will have a significant impact on prospects across baseball, but loss of games and possible contraction will have a direct impact on the Yankees’ most exciting young prospect, Jasson Dominguez.
Sure, Dominguez can continue to work out, but 2020 is a pivotal year for his development as a professional baseball player. Dominguez just has not played a lot of real baseball in the last couple of years as he spent most of the time in managed instructional camps, where full baseball games as we see them on TV are rarely played. Dominguez’s first pro season is essential to his development. Dominguez is full of loud tools, and may legitimately be the rare five-tool prospect (a term used far too often, but by all reports, a term that may be appropriate for Dominguez), but he has no chance of turning those tools into actual game skills unless he plays in games outside of controlled environments. There is only so much development that can occur from work outs and managed instructional league games.
Yankee fans, and surely the Yankees themselves, dream of watching Dominguez race through the minor leagues. Already, there was talk of whether Dominguez could become part of a small group of teenagers who have ever played in the Major Leagues. Losing most or all of 2020 would almost certainly make that an impossibility. Contraction of multiple levels in the low minors could also have significant impacts on the Yankees’ ability to develop Dominguez using tried and true progressions through the minor leagues. Personally, I also worry about all of the time that Dominguez is likely spending away from Yankee trainers and coaches. All of the time that Dominguez is away from Yankee coaching and professional games is a detriment to his development.
Obviously, much of this is out of the Yankees’ control. With any luck, Dominguez is really able to translate his generational talent to the baseball diamond in professional games whenever he gets the opportunity. However, the international pandemic that threatens the Yankees’ pursuit of a World Series in 2020 may have an even greater impact on the development of the most exciting Yankee prospect in quite some time.