TAMPA — If it were up to Jasson Dominguez, he’d be playing for the Yankees by the time he’s “20 or 21” years old.
The Yankees’ much-hyped prospect, who turned 19 earlier this month, will have to move up quickly for that to happen.
He has played just 56 professional games, all of them last season, which he split between the Florida Complex League and Low-A Tampa.
Dominguez seems set to begin the upcoming minor league season at Tampa again, where plenty of attention will be paid to the center fielder and new manager Rachel Balkovec.
Not all of the attention has been positive for Dominguez, whose stock in prospect rankings took a bit of a hit following his struggles at Tampa last season, when he had a .744 OPS and 67 strikeouts in 214 plate appearances. Some scouts began to wonder what his ceiling might be.
But he showed off some power Wednesday at the Yankees’ Player Development Complex, and after teammates and coaches praised his attitude and leadership abilities, Dominguez spoke with confidence about his future.
“My goal this year is to stay healthy,’’ Dominguez said. “I know if I stay healthy, the other things I can control.”
Interestingly, Dominguez conducted nearly the entire interview in English, which not many young players from the Dominican Republic are comfortable doing.
That is part of his development as a leader, according to Balkovec, who worked closely with Dominguez last season, as well.
“He has super-high aptitude,’’ Balkovec said. “He wants to learn anything he can to help himself, including English. He’s nervous [giving interviews in a second language], but he still pushes himself to do it. That’s pretty much all around how he approaches baseball, too. If we want to try something new or make an adjustment, he’s gonna listen to what we have to say. He’s a really intelligent kid who wants the information and wants to know why. He asks questions. He’s a critical thinker.”
The next step will be refining the raw skills that helped convince the Yankees to sign Dominguez to a $5.1 million bonus in July 2019.
Those skills have impressed Anthony Volpe, the Yankees’ top overall prospect, who has been working with Dominguez at the team’s minicamp this week.
“Watching his BP is awesome,’’ Volpe said. “He’s a specimen. … We call him ‘Mini Aaron Donald.’ ”
Dominguez is listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds — a far cry from the 6-1, 280-pound Rams defensive end — but is noted for his impressive strength.
And Volpe wasn’t the only one to reference the gridiron when it came to Dominguez.
“I always tell him he should play football,’’ said Matt Talarico, the team’s baserunning coordinator. “No one could tackle that guy. No shot.”
None of that, though, means Dominguez will emerge as a star in the sport he’s actually playing.
It doesn’t help that his 2020 was wiped out when COVID-19 forced the shutdown of the minor league season before he finally made his pro debut last year.
The Yankees knew they were asking a lot of Dominguez when they sent him to Low-A Tampa, but that was part of his development.
“We’ve seen guys time and time again make it to the big leagues and that’s their first taste of any challenge or failure,’’ said Kevin Reese, VP of Player Development. “He hasn’t played a ton of baseball, especially against this type of competition. We wanted to push him and will continue to do that.’’
There will be even more eyes on him as Dominguez moves through the minor league system, but he seemed to enjoy the spotlight on Wednesday. He was comfortable, confident and at times, self-deprecating, while making a strong effort to communicate in English alongside Hector Gonazalez, the team’s cultural development coordinator.
Balkovec noted Dominguez took it upon himself to use Rosetta Stone to help him learn the new language.
What really matters, though, is what he can do on the field.
“What’s good about Jasson is he’s mature beyond his age,” said new hitting coach Dillon Lawson, previously the minor league hitting coordinator. “That helps us with expectations and being real with him about the hardships he might face.”