Despite the fact that he’s never played above AA ball, Matt Dominguez is the favorite to open the season as the starting third baseman for the Florida Marlins. Typically, a prospect that claims a starting job at such a young age is regarded as one of the strongest prospects in all of baseball. This, however, is not necessarily the case for Dominguez. Although Marc Hulet rated Dominguez as the Marlins’ top prospect coming into the 2011 season, Dominguez ranked 81st on Baseball America’s top prospect list. The Marlins’ aggressive promotion schedule with Dominguez is definitely a risky proposition considering his inexperience.
Dominguez spent the entire 2010 season in AA, and, while promising, his performance left a lot of room for growth. In 577 plate appearances, Dominguez managed to hit .252/.333/.411, not exactly a performance that warrants such an aggressive promotion. The most troubling aspect of Dominguez’s minor league numbers is his elevated strikeout rate. Over the course of his minor league career, Dominguez has struck out once in every six plate appearances.
If Dominguez is exposed to major league pitching this season, his strikeout rate could balloon to astronomical heights. Thankfully, Dominguez has shown patience over his career, and could balance out his poor average with a strong walk rate. In 32 at-bats this Spring, Dominguez has hit .219/.324/.438, which probably isn’t a far cry from the batting line he would post during the upcoming season (higher average, but lower on-base and slugging percentages). Dominguez, however, is regarded as one of the best defensive third baseman in the minors, and should be able to gather a decent amount of value from his glove. Those skills might be enough to push him above the replacement level this season.
Still, the Marlins run the risk of ruining Dominguez if he flops at the major league level. If he struggles to raise his average above the Mendoza line and starts to press, his confidence could take a huge hit. The problem is, the Marlins don’t really have any better options at the position.
Neither Wes Helms nor Emilio Bonifacio inspire much confidence as starters. While their offensive performances could come close to matching Dominguez’s skill set, Helms and Bonifacio wouldn’t come close to matching Dominguez’s defensive value. If we dismiss those players from contention, we are left with Omar Infante and Chris Coghlan.
As Joe Pawlikowski recently explained, the Marlins could choose to alter their lineup due to the versatility of Coghlan and Infante. Both players have limited experience at third base throughout their careers, and it would be tough to predict how they would perform defensively at the position. Neither player profiles as an ideal hitter at third base, but both would probably churn out a more consistent offensive performance than Dominguez.
That said, the Marlins seem pretty committed to starting Infante at second and Coghlan in center. Based on all the buzz surrounding Dominguez this Spring, it looks like he’s going to win the job at third base. While some will suggest Coghlan or Infante be moved to other positions, it’s hard to argue with installing Dominguez at third. The cupboard is pretty bare for the Marlins at the position, and Dominguez is the
only strongest option they have. He should provide the strongest defense of the bunch, and might hit just enough to justify the promotion. The Marlins are taking a significant risk with the move, however, and it’s now up to Dominguez to learn how to hit major league pitching on the fly. If he can’t, the Marlins have no one else to turn to this season.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.