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Bernie On The Scene: Matt Still Working On His Bat

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.

I had the opportunity to see Matt Dominguez play in the 2009 Arizona Fall League. At the time, I knew that the Marlins had their eye on the Chatsworth (California) High School product as their third baseman of the future. The future may well be this season, as Dominguez remains the favorite to ultimately become the starter after a little more minor league seasoning. He was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans on March 24th after being touted as the potential Opening Day starter for the Marlins.

"We thought that he was pressing a little bit and that he was taking his offense to the field, and that's not him," manager Edwin Rodriguez said.

In a rare occurrence, two players from the same high school were drafted in the same year. Both Dominguez and Royals prospect Mike Moustakas were drafted out of Chatsworth in 2007. They represented the left side of the Chatsworth infield. Moose, who played shortstop on the team was the first player taken while Dominguez went at No. 12.

After giving Dominguez a signing bonus of $1.8 million, there is no question he will be given every chance to move quickly in the Marlins' system. The team will be very patient with Dominguez if he scuffles a bit at the plate in his first season. A team like Florida does not spend money foolishly and their scouting and development people are among the best in baseball. Once he gains more experience at the plate and allows his natural ability to shine, the Marlins have faith that Dominguez will solve the need for a quality third baseman once and for all.

To be clear right at the beginning, Dominguez is known more for his stellar defense than his offense at this point of his career. His glove is the reason he was drafted so highly, and it is the primary reason he might be starting for the Marlins sooner than later. He is said to have “Gold Glove potential” at the hot corner. After having seen him play third, I can attest to his soft hands, superb range, very strong throwing arm and excellent footwork. His first-step quickness enables him to make difficult plays look easy. He was reputed to be the best defensive third baseman last year in minor league baseball.

It's fine that he's a world- class defender, but what about his offense?
Therein lies the rub. Dominguez has not played a game yet against Triple-A quality pitching. That now changes with his 2011 assignment to begin the year. Last season, he had 504 at-bats at Double-A Jacksonville in the Southern League. He hit .252 with 14 home runs, 81 runs batted in and an OPS of .738. That certainly isn't anything to write home about.

Making the jump from Triple-A to the big leagues shouldn't be a huge leap for Dominguez, but there will be an adjustment period. As of this writing, Dominguez is hitting .190 for the Marlins this spring. Chances are he won't get any more spring training at-bats with the major league team. Managers usually use the last seven to 10 days in spring to play their 25-man roster. I really expect Dominguez to be in the big leagues before late June unless the club makes a trade for a veteran option like Pedro Feliz. Then they may be able to keep Dominguez on a development track for a longer period of time in New Orleans.

There are some things to consider about Dominguez regarding his offensive capability. He is only 21 years old, so he will likely grow into his current 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame. With that growth could come more power. Dominguez is a left field to right field gap hitter. He isn't “pull happy” and he has enough bat control to hit the ball to all fields. My concern is his strikeout rate. In his past, Dominguez has shown one strikeout for every six at-bats. That could get even worse against big league pitching. Dominguez has no speed; making leg hits a virtual impossibility. During the Fall League, I noticed that Dominguez reacted well to fastballs and struggled with breaking pitches. Nothing new there, as most young players follow that pattern. That's the part about skipping an entire classification that bothers me most. With his assignment to Triple-A, Dominguez won't be skipping that important classification. I am pleased that Dominguez will start the season at Triple-A so he can see and respond to higher quality pitchers than he saw last year. He'll see a menu of breaking balls and off-speed pitches that will help prepare him for his ultimate arrival with the Marlins. Many Triple-A players are seasoned veterans or baseball “Four-A lifers” who are trying to prove something and work their way back to their own major league club.

Florida had not put Dominguez on their 40-man roster so another player won't have to be sacrificed on the roster to make room for Dominguez. That may be an additional team bonus for sending the sure-handed third baseman to Triple-A. He was in their spring camp as an invited player.

Some people have compared Dominguez to Travis Fryman the former Detroit Tigers/Cleveland Indians third baseman who is now an instructor in the Indians' organization. Fryman was a .274 lifetime hitter with a few down years on his way to that career average. I can understand the comparison. In short, it's good field/mediocre to average bat that improves over time. If mediocre becomes .250 to .260 at third base, a power position, will that be enough for Florida? Well, if they have enough other bats in the lineup they can live with the Maicer Izturis/Alberto Callaspo low power type player without the speed? Defense does win ballgames, but long term they have to keep a lineup that includes Hanley Ramirez and Michael Stanton to drive in runs. In fact, Dominguez could become Mike Lowell over time; and Lowell had a fine career.

So what is the fantasy future of Dominguez? Frankly, we now know that Dominguez will not break camp with the Marlins as their third baseman. That's fine because he would have been learning on the job. In the very near future he will help his team with his glove, his hustle, his baseball instincts and his desire to learn. His bat should be good enough to keep him in the lineup as opposed to him being an automatic out. In that regard, I equate him initially to Adam Everett—a great defender and not much at the plate. Everett made a career with his glove. Is that good enough for your fantasy team? I think Dominguez will be a better hitter than Everett and I don't want to sell him short, but Everett is a .243 lifetime hitter. Dominguez will hit better than that and his power will develop. Plus, his contact will improve. He should hit .250 with 10 homers at least in his first couple years. I then see the .265 or .270 average after he learns the league and how to hit major league pitching. He'll drive in some big runs because he knows what to do with the bat and how to play baseball, but the fact of the matter is he'll be more valuable in 2012 than in 2011.

On a scouting scale, I see him as a 55 - a bit above an average major league player. I would not hesitate to grab Dominguez at the end of a draft or auction. Don't expect too much and you could be pleasantly surprised. Fryman had a long career and he drove in some very important runs. Dominguez can do that for Florida, and his numbers should get better with age and experience. It's a good thing for Dominguez and the Marlins that he'll be learning the game at New Orleans and not in Florida. At least for now.