Last Friday, before the Marlins opened the season with a solid victory, top prospect Matt Dominguez fractured his elbow and may be out six to eight weeks. While this has no effect on the immediate Marlins major league roster, it does have two effects on the Marlins and their mid-term future with Dominguez. For starters, this delays the development of Dominguez, a player who needs playing time in the minors to season his bat. It also effects the Marlins potential plan for the 2011 season at third base, ensuring a season filled with temporary, stopgap solutions.
Stunting a player’s hitting development when he owns a career minor league line of .257/.330/.422 is bad as it stands. The fact that Dominguez is currently the Marlins’ best prospect and a former first-round draft pick (in the same draft in which the Marlins drafted Mike Stanton, no less) adds additional pressure to the already struggling Dominguez. This season in Triple-A was supposed to be the year that Dominguez figured it out and began hitting like the Marlins initially thought he could after his .296/.354/.499 campaign in Greensboro. Unfortunately, this injury will knock out almost two months of potential development out of his game.
The current Marlins plan at third base is murky if you do not include Dominguez, so this (possibly final) season in the minors was going to be a crucial one; if the team saw that he was not ready, they would have to acquire a more intermediate-level stopgap to allow Dominguez time to develop. Losing two months of potential playing time that could help him improve his power or continue to refine his developing plate discipline could hurt the long term plans the team has for him. Perhaps when he returns and completes the 2011 season, he will still need a 2012 season or half-season lingering in the minors before he is ready to be brought up to the big leagues. The Marlins have to consider how their major league plans will be affected by this.
Immediate major league future
This injury all but assures that the Fish will be going through 2011 with a temporary stopgap solution. The Marlins were confident going into this season that Dominguez would do enough to win the job; when he didn’t, they fell back on two mediocre plans in Donnie Murphy and Emilio Bonifacio. The team’s hope was that Dominguez would tear it up in Triple-A in the first half and receive a Mike Stanton / Logan Morrison promotion at midseason. However, that was unlikely in part because the chances of Dominguez putting up a strong first half in Triple-A New Orleans, akin to the sort of season Stanton had in Double-A or Morrison had in Triple-A last season, seemed slim to start. Stanton had already shown some precedent for a monster season, having had a great year in Low-A in 2008, while Morrison has hit well at pretty much every level in which he has played. Neither was as defensively prepared as Dominguez for the majors, but it is typically the bat that buys your way into the majors, and Dominguez had never shown that sort of development at the plate.
Now the injury all but assures that Dominguez won’t be seen until September. The Marlins need to give him time to heal and develop in the minors, and that means that a midseason callup is out of the question. In turn, that means the Fish will depend on Murphy and Bonifacio to hold the fort at the position with almost no depth behind them. We’ve already seen the possibility of injury in Murphy, whose 2010 season ended due to a dislocated wrist. We’ve also seen what 500 plate appearances of Emilio Bonifacio can do to a team, especially when a manager becomes obsessed with Bonifacio’s speed. There is almost no one behind either of these two players (no, Osvaldo Martinez definitely does not count), so if either gets injured, it could look even uglier at third base in 2011.