How Yankees’ Jasson Domínguez is handling rehab purgatory

SOMERSET, N.J. — Jasson Domínguez charged the one-hopper, scooped it and fired it on a line drive to home plate. Wearing workout shorts, a T-shirt and red cap representing the Somerset Patriots, the New York Yankees’ Double-A affiliate, Domínguez didn’t look like someone recovering from Tommy John surgery. Rather, his arm strength, and his confident smile, more resembled last September, when he dazzled in his promotion to the major leagues after years of prospect hype.

Yet, there Domínguez was at TD Bank Ballpark, approximately 60 miles from Yankee Stadium and across the country from the Yankees, who were set to face the Giants in San Francisco on Friday night. He knows the deal. There’s likely no regular role available to him right now on the Yankees’ roster, with his rehab assignment clock running out Monday, he’s almost guaranteed to have to bide his time at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

“I don’t know nothing about that,” Domínguez said Friday, sitting in the home dugout and slated to DH later in the night. “I can’t control that. Just making my progression, and when the time comes, we’ll see what happens.”

How does the 21-year-old feel about that?

“I can’t control that,” he said. “It is what it is.”

Yankees manager Aaron Boone has been noncommittal about the team’s plans for the youngster.

“He’s in a good spot,” Boone told reporters Wednesday in Los Angeles. “He’s had a really good rehab, in that it’s gone smooth, he hasn’t been rushed, he’s been built up properly. So he’s in a pretty good place.”

Domínguez, a center fielder, has been the Yankees’ most ballyhooed pupil since agreeing to a franchise-record $5.1 million signing bonus at age 16 in 2019. The Dominican Republic native then raced through the Yankees’ minor-league system, earning a shot in the majors late last season. In eight games, Domínguez hit four home runs, including one in his first MLB at-bat against the Houston Astros’ Justin Verlander, a future Hall of Famer. But after feeling pain in his right elbow, doctors diagnosed him with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, and he had Tommy John surgery on Sept. 20.

Before the injury, the Yankees saw him not just as one of their outfielders of the future, but of their near future. But the surgery meant that he likely would be out until the summer. So, in the offseason, the Yankees acquired Alex Verdugo from the Boston Red Sox. Then they traded for Juan Soto from the San Diego Padres, moving Aaron Judge from right field to center.

With Judge not going anywhere, and with Soto entrenched in right field until he becomes a free agent at the end of the season, Domínguez only seemed likely to potentially threaten the playing time of Verdugo, the left fielder who will also be a free agent after this season. But in 55 games going into Friday, Verdugo has played strong defense, and he’s posted a 115 OPS + — the second-best mark of his career. Plus, Verdugo has become key to the Yankees’ clubhouse chemistry. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Trent Grisham has been serving as the team’s fourth outfielder, and he’s gotten just 45 plate appearances.

So, Domínguez, who had played just one game so far in the outfield in his rehab assignment, will almost definitely wind up in baseball purgatory. He’ll be major-league ready, but due to the Yankees’ success (39-19, first place in the American League East) and glut of outfielders, he’ll wind up getting more seasoning at Triple A, where he’s played just nine career games.

“I feel really good,” Domínguez said. “The progression has been great. We’re going day by day, and every day I feel better.”

Manager Raul Dominguez said Jasson Domínguez has handled his rehab well and that he’s in “really good shape.” He added that it’s clear that Jasson Domínguez has been working on his timing at the plate.

“His throwing to the bases looks really, really good,” Raul Dominguez said. “He looks really, really healthy. He looks normal. I’m just trying to be in communication with him: ‘How do you feel after you throw? How do you feel the next day?’ And he’s in a really good spot right now.”

This time last year, Jasson Domínguez was a member of the Double-A squad, and he was in a rough spot. He was hitting just .204 with seven homers, 24 RBIs and a .751 OPS through 42 games. But then he turned it around. Over his final 76 minor-league games, he hit .295 with eight home runs and a .827 OPS.

Raul Dominguez also managed the Somerset Patriots last year. He’s spent just about as much time as anybody with Jasson Domínguez. What stands out most about the phenom that fans don’t get to see?

‘Personality,” Raul Dominguez said. “Maturity. I said that last year. It seems that with the age that he has, it’s like he’s a professional — 30 years old with 10 years experience in the big leagues.”

Jasson Domínguez might need to wait just a bit longer to get more experience in the big leagues, however. He seems fine with that. One of the biggest obstacles he faced in his rehab, he said, was fighting the urge to go full effort too early.

“Being patient,” he said, was the hardest part. “The first time, when you’re ready, you want to go play, but you’ve got to be patient and make everything right.

And it seems likely that Jasson Domínguez will have to wait in Triple A until everything is right for him to return to the Bronx.

(Photo courtesy of Somerset Patriots)

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