Can Dominguez possibly be ready in 2011?

Right now, this is the question Marlins fans are asking, because it seems the answer to the real burning question (why Chris Coghlan is being moved to center field when he hasn’t established himself as a good left fielder) will not be answered in the fans’ favor. See Joe Frisaro’s latest inbox:

Even though the Marlins have publicly made it clear that Coghlan will be their center fielder when Spring Training opens, it seems many doubt this will actually happen. At least that is the reaction from a number of e-mails I’m receiving. All I can do is pass along where the team stands in the here and now.

In public and private conversations I’ve had with club officials, Coghlan will be given every opportunity to win the center-field job. Also, the team is giving Matt Dominguez a chance to come in and win the third-base job. Dominguez’s situation is similar to what Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez have gone through in recent years. In 2009, Sanchez was offered the first chance to win the first-base job. It didn’t happen, as he struggled and started off in Triple-A. Then, in ’10, Sanchez was more seasoned and Morrison had his Spring Training difficulties at first base. So Sanchez won the starting job and Morrison went to Triple-A to open the season.

For a team that seems extremely interested in winning within the next year or two, this seems like a counterproductive move. For 2011, it is most certainly a negative move. The likelihood is high that a Coghlan recovering from a torn meniscus in his knee, who hasn’t shown to be more than an average left fielder, will struggle with center field defense. In addition to that, having witnessed the statistical performance of Matt Dominguez in the minors the last few seasons, it is safe to say that he is likely not ready for the big leagues, and a surprising burst in one month of Spring Training should not convince anyone else otherwise.

A brief Dominguez history

The following are Dominguez’ stats for his last few seasons.

Dominguez PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2008 (Low-A) 381 .296 .354 .499 .374 136
2009 (High-A) 429 .262 .333 .420 .346 117
2009 (Double-A) 114 .186 .292 .320 .290 74
2010 (Double-A) 577 .252 .333 .414 .337 102

Data courtesy of FanGraphs

What I see when I initially look at that player is a guy who has been consistently league average at each level he has reached. This is especially confirmed when resident prospects expert John Herold says that those Low-A and High-A numbers between 2008 and 2009 were basically the same.

One of the things that has driven me the most mad is people who claim his Jupiter stop saw a major drop in him offensively. As we can see in his park adjusted numbers though, there wasn’t much of a difference at all, with his wRC+ only a 5 point difference. Not only that, but he improved his BB% and K%. And while he did not hit as many HRs, he made up for it with doubles and his .ISO is near-identical. The main difference is BABIP, which is known for it’s random variance. His Jupiter should not be seen as a negative, but rather him staying the course.

Since then, Dominguez has put on an average-looking 2010 season that still accompanies a potential +10-run glove at third base based on most scouting accounts. However, being average in the minors is no recipe for major league success. Frisaro quoted the performances of Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez as indicators of how the Marlins will handle the Dominguez situation. When each finally earned their long-awaited full-time debuts, they were coming off of these seasons:

Player PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Sanchez, 2009 (Triple-A) 366 .290 .375 .478 .378 126
Morrison, 2010 (Triple-A) 293 .307 .427 .487 .400 135

Both Sanchez and Morrison were more than ready for the big leagues when they left the minors. Both had sparkling numbers with even fancier peripherals while hitting at a (slightly) higher level than Double-A. Neither of these guys’ seasons looked like the year Dominguez just had in 2010. It seems unlikely that Dominguez will win the job coming out of Spring Training based on his past performance, barring a lucky run of conveniently-timed hits or some serious growth in ability over the offseason.

Projection

ZiPS offers this line as the Dominguez projection for 2011:

Dominguez PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Projected 2011 majors 650 .231 .300 .372 .297

Given 550 PA in a season, that .297 wOBA would be worth just about -15 runs compared to average. Essentially Dominguez currently projects to be quite similar to Emilio Bonifacio in 2011. Even if he were a +10 glove throughout the season, that would be worth at best around 1 to 1.5 WAR, and that would be dependent on his defense being top-notch, around Adrian Beltre level. Given what we know about his offense, I’d like to see another year in the minors for a guy who is still heading into his age 22 season.

If the Marlins are serious about contention (and recent signings say that they are), then allowing Dominguez an extra year to develop (and an extra year off of his service clock) in Triple-A would be the most ideal move. In order to do that, the team needs to find a better stopgap for 2011 than Bonifacio or Wes Helms. But it seems the team is ready to move into 2011 with Dominguez if he flashes anything resembling ability to hit major league pitching.

Spring Training, once again, is meaningless

Once again, the Marlins are showing signs of overweighing Spring Training performance. Last season, I made the argument that Spring Training is meaningless because there is just so little time to differentiate between two players, particularly when looking at stats. But it seems like, if Dominguez jumps out to a hot start this Spring Training, the Marlins will gladly place him in the starting lineup regardless of how the past has played out.

Yes, I know the Marlins have scouts who (presumably) know what they are doing. But can they determine that Dominguez has “gotten it” after watching him rip a line drive single versus ripping a line drive caught in center field? I don’t know, but I have my doubts, just like I have my doubts with the Marlins’ current plan of giving Dominguez a shot with no plausible second option in the case of him struggling.

Topics: Chris Coghlan, Gaby Sanchez, Logan Morrison, Matt Dominguez, Miami Marlins

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  • Anton

    Hi Michael!

    I find the front office’s clear indifference to defense frustrating. Regularly it is indicated to the fans by the FO that defense is valued, yet, in this situation, and others, management is filling whatever lineup hole we have (this year CF) with inattention to the consequences for the defense.

    Same philosophy with Morrison in LF, moving Bonifacio around the field to find a spot for his ‘speed’ as if his superutility skills were actual, the team not having a quality defensive catcher since Charles Johnson, and even the pitching staff’s general inability (I am not aware of a metric for this) to keep runners close to the bag.

    On another note, I believe we grew up in the same area and you go to med school with someone I know.

    • Michael Jong

      Anton,

      Glad to hear from you again on the comments section! Where did you grow up? I moved to Weston, FL when I was in grade school and lived there until I went to college in Gainesville. Now I’m attending Ross University in Dominica, where it’s even hotter than Florida!

      Defense is something very confusing to the Marlins. You are right, they say they focus on it, and yet it seems they don’t. I haven’t heard of anything regarding what they use to measure or analyze defense. Most of the stuff that I hear is regarding errors, which is just scratching the surface of what’s happening on defense. It certainly didn’t ever sound like guys like Dan Uggla knew what was really going on as well.

      You actually reminded me of the recent interview first base coach and infield defense guru Perry Hill just did regarding this exact topic. I will have to write about that. Hill sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, at least with regards to infield defense. He stresses positioning more than reducing errors, which is definitely going a long way towards maximizing “range.” We’ll see if the results are noticeable in 2011.