There was a time when Matt Dominguez was seen as one of the bright young stars in baseball. Selected #12 overall in the 2007 draft at the tender age of 17 by the Marlins, the right handed hitting third baseman made a steady ascent through the minor leagues, making his major league debut in 2011. Ranked as the #87 propect prior to 2012 by MLB.com, Dominguez found himself traded to Houston that mid season as part of a deal for former-Brewer Carlos Lee.
The Astros tabbed Dominguez as their everyday third baseman for 2013, and he did not disappoint. In 152 games, Matt posted a .241/.286/.403 while slugging 25 doubles and 21 home runs. Though his wRC+ was below league average at 88, he posted strong numbers in the field (eight Defensive Runs Saved) and was rated at 2.2 WAR in just his age 23 season. It looked as though Houston had found their third baseman of the future. The team nearly signed him to a long-term extension before the 2014 season before the reported five year offer was rebuffed.
Since then, however, things have been a struggle for Dominguez. He posted just a .586 OPS and 63 wRC+ in 157 games in 2014 while also taking a step back defensively, costing Matt his big league job. Banished to AAA in favor of Luis Valbuena, Dominguez has continued to struggle at the plate this year, batting just .251/.289/.371 with four home runs in 188 plate appearances. He found himself designated for assignment on June 8th when the Astros needed a 40 man roster spot for top prospect Carlos Correa.
With a need at third base, I was intrigued by the thought of the Brewers bringing in Dominguez. Aramis Ramirez is set to retire following the season, and could likely find himself traded even before that (he’s already been linked to the Mets). The Brewers let go of Luis Jimenez earlier this season and Jason Rogers just isn’t a third baseman, leaving the team with no other third base options on the 40 man roster, lest they move one of their plethora of middle infielders over to the hot corner.
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Lo and behold, the Brewers were officially awarded the rights to Dominguez via waiver claim on June 16th. The Brewers immediately optioned Dominguez to AAA, where he will likely remain until Aramis is moved. Per Jim Goulart (@mass_haas), Dominguez does still have an option remaining, meaning he can be sent to the minor leagues in 2016 without having to be exposed to waivers. Dominguez has 2.062 years of service time, so the Brewers can control him through at least the 2019 season, if they so desire. If he does spend a meaningful amount of time in the big leagues this season (~78 days), he could reach the cutoff for Super 2 arbitration eligibility, projected by MLB Trade Rumors to fall at 2.140 years of service.
For a player looking to get his career back on track, Dominguez probably couldn’t have asked for a better situation. He is the obvious choice among the current Brewers roster to supplant a departed Aramis Ramirez at third, whether that comes during this season (ideally) or the start next season.
Dominguez might not have a tremendously high offensive ceiling, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a useful player for Milwaukee through a rebuilding period. He has a reputation as a solid defender overall (having posted a positive dWAR during his career) and has shown the ability to be close to a league average bat with some home run pop.
It’s going to take some work for Dominguez to get back to that level of production, however. From his 2013 season to 2014, Matt experienced marked increases in his swing percentage (47.0% to 49.1%), swings at pitched outside of the zone (32.5% to 35.6%), and swinging strikes (7.7% to 10%). Coupled with a significant drop in contact rate (83.4% to 79.3%), Dominguez struck out at a career high rate of greater than 20%. For a player with a low career BABIP (.255 in 357 MLB games), Dominguez will need to rediscover his discipline and contact ability in order to be a more effective presence at the plate.
Dominguez will also have to find his lost ability to hit the fastball, as well. After posting a strong 7.2 fastball runs above average (wFB) during 2013, Matt dropped steeply to a -17.5 wFB mark year, second worst in all of baseball among qualified hitters. Dominguez saw more than twice as many fastballs at the plate than any other pitch in 2014, only further damaging his ability to produce at the plate.
There are some positives to see in Dominguez’s current results in AAA, however. Though his walk rate is rather awful at just 2.1%, he has cut his strikeout rate all the way down to 14.9%. He is hitting line drives at a 20.6% rate (according to MLBfarm.com), which represents a near 3% increase over his MLB performance last season. Matt has yet to make an error in 117 chances at third base this year, and has even shown some position flexibility with four appearances at first base (his first at any level since 2009).
The Brewers had basically nothing to lose by rolling the dice on Matt Dominguez (though perhaps choosing to designate Wei-Chung Wang for assignment rather than, say, Logan Schafer may have been a mistake). He could have some solid upside as a reclamation project for the Brewers; someone who, with a little work, could perform at a rate that is solidly above replacement level. His solid defensive reputation should serve the Brewers young, ground-ball heavy staff (Peralta, Nelson, Jungmann, Wagner, etc.) quite well as they continue to develop at the big league level, and he has shown the ability to provide a more desirable power profile at the hot corner than, say, Jean Segura could. This wouldn’t be the first time Brewers’ General Manager Doug Melvin has found a solid contributor off the scrap heap, and the probability is rather high that Matt Dominguez will get an ample amount of chances to nail down the everyday third baseman job for the near future.