May 9—For having one of the more analytical minds in baseball, Kevin Reese knew immediately he made a gross miscalculation.
When he met the media for the first time this season last week, the Yankees' senior director of player development figured there'd be a lot to talk about. But the first question he got asked — and a handful of the ones asked afterward — centered on the whereabouts of Jasson Dominguez, an 18-year-old on none of those rosters, with seemingly no hope of appearing in a major league game this season, or even in 2022.
"I thought we'd be at least a couple questions in before we got there," Reese chuckled.
No matter how much has changed in the minors, the minors always will be about finding the next superstar. Even if he hasn't played a game yet. But one thing we've learned around here during three decades worth of Triple-A baseball in the region, it's that it's not always the top prospect that makes the biggest impact where it matters most in September and October.
Out of this world
Yankees fans have been well-versed on the switch-hitting Dominguez's story since the team signed him for $5.1 million out of his native Dominican Republic in 2019. He's the organization's top prospect with a bullet, a genetic freak so physically gifted, he has been granted the nickname "The Martian." The Yankees list him at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, but he's built more like Saquon Barkley than those numbers might lead one to believe.
The scouting reports say he runs like Mantle, plays center like Trout and has Bo's athleticism. So, of course fans and the press are going to wonder where he's opening the 2021 season. Which, Reese said, is going to be in Tampa for extended spring training.
"It's a different world, right? We didn't play last year," he said. "Jasson's an 18-year-old that we're all excited about. He's got a lot of talent, a lot of skill. Hasn't played in a lot of games. So, we just kind of wanted to put him in the best place to succeed.
"(Extended spring) will provide an environment for more individual attention, and we'll kind of be able to iron out anything that he needs to work through."
Reese didn't dismiss the idea that Dominguez could appear in affiliated ball at some point this season, but the chance he could don a RailRiders uniform at some point in 2021 sees as remote as the planet from which his nickname indicates he came.
That doesn't mean there aren't a handful of players who aren't opening the season with the RailRiders that won't be making a major here impact as summer dons.
The realm of possibility
Reese said there were a lot of people in the organization who made a plea for Estevan Florial to open the season with the RailRiders, and the way manager Doug Davis raved about him, it wouldn't be a shock if he were among them.
Talk about the more impressive players who called PNC Field home when it was the Yankees' alt-site in April, and the smooth center fielder would certainly be on the short list. He showed plus defense in center and easy power, especially to the opposite field throughout the month.
"Flo was exceptional," Davis said. "We love Flo, and would have loved him to be on this club to start. But I think they made the smart decision to start him in Double-A; I think that's a good level for him. But he's a confident kid right now, and he knows he can play at this level. Even though we only faced Lehigh Valley (during alt-site scrimmages), he faced a lot of good pitching, Major League pitching. And, he held his own doing that."
Florial made his major league debut last season, going 1 for 3, and he's no stranger to the top of the Yankees' prospect list. He has been on it for a while, and a combination of injuries and a high strikeout rate — he has fanned in 28.3 percent of his 1,728 minor league plate appearances — worked to hold him back.
But he's just 23, and he had a solid spring. If he starts strong at the new Double-A affiliate in Somerset, N.J., he is a good bet to be pushed and could be the first prospect to get a promotion to the RailRiders.
On the pitching side, there are two interesting names to watch in Somerset.
Right-handers Luis Gil and Glen Otto both spent April at the alt-site, and while they each need to find more consistency during their time at Double-A, they both showed promise that they could provide help in two places the Yankees are always looking for it, the rotation and the bullpen.
"From a coaching perspective, it was tough to see them go, just because you feel like you were slowly making progress with each guy," RailRiders pitching coach Dustin Glant said. "Otto has really good stuff, and he'll flash you an inning, even flash for three innings, but at least here, he didn't put it all together for a start or an outing. ... Gil is electric. The hitters talk about it, that it looks like a ping-pong ball coming at you."
Gil is one of the Yankees' top prospects anyway, and he's continuing to develop a slider to go with a heater that rides in the mid-to-upper 90s. Otto is a former college reliever at Rice who the Yankees like as a potential starter. He has added a slider to his repertoire since last season, adding it to a power fastball and one of the system's best curveballs.
Both have a bit of a Chad Green feel to them; the Yankees know they're both a third pitch away from being starters, but they have the ability to bring it for an inning or two out of the bullpen and shut lineups down in the near term. They'll be fun to watch this season and are good bets to land at PNC Field before it's all said and done, too. They might be good bets to get a look as relievers, especially if innings limits come into play after the lost 2020.
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