The Yankees have not been shy about spending heavily in the international amateur market, and it has paid off with some of the brightest talents in the clubhouse: Catcher Gary Sanchez, an All-Star in 2019 for the second time; pitcher Luis Severino and third baseman Miguel Andujar were all signed as teenagers out of the Dominican Republic.
On Tuesday, the Yankees broke their own record. They spent over $5 million of their $5.4 million bonus pool allotment for the 2019-2020 period on Jasson Dominguez, a talented 16-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic who is considered to be not only the top prospect in this class but one of the best to come out of the international market in recent years.
“We’ve signed a lot of international players per year, sometimes as high as 50,” Donny Rowland, the Yankees’ director of international scouting, said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday — the first day of the new international amateur signing period. “And we like to diversify, and we like volume. But in this case, every now and then, the right player comes along, this one was worth it. To a man, everyone on my staff agreed.”
The Yankees’ previous amateur signing record was $3.2 million, for the Dominican shortstop Dermis Garcia in 2014. Garcia, now 21, is playing for Class A Tampa and is not ranked among the organization’s top 30 prospects according to MLB.com.
Rowland, as well as scouts from other teams, are much more confident about Dominguez. Rowland said that when he first saw Dominguez play two years ago, he struggled to believe what he was seeing. He said he kept asking the Yankees’ scouts if his eyes were correct.
“It was a bit shocking and very impressive,” Rowland said. “Over time, he just continued to show the same, if not better, tools and performance.”
Dominguez, generally listed at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, is built more sturdily than a typical 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic. Scouts often have to project what teenage prospects’ bodies might look like after a few years of better nutrition and training, but Rowland said Dominguez is ahead of the curve.
“With him, it’s not a matter of intensive weight gain or strength,” Rowland said. “He is strong and has tools now. We don’t have to wait three years for those long projections to happen.”
Dominguez is a switch hitter and, according to Rowland, is projected to play center field. Rowland commended Dominguez’s “elite baseball tools” and background (he said Dominguez came from a blue-collar household in the northern part of the country).
Rowland said many of the Yankees’ 50 scouting reports highlighted Dominguez’s hitting ability. He has been recorded hitting balls up to 108 miles per hour — powerful even for a major leaguer — and has been compared to some of the most well-known names in baseball history, though Rowland declined to make comparisons on Tuesday.
“I don’t want to sell Jasson’s abilities short, either,” he added. “He does have very, very high potential.”
Dominguez was among 11 signings announced by the Yankees on Tuesday. Six came from the Dominican Republic, along with two each from Colombia and Venezuela, and one from Panama. Although Dominguez officially signed with the Yankees on Tuesday, he had long been linked to them; players and their trainers often reach unofficial verbal agreements with teams before the international amateur signing period.
In the baseball-crazy Dominican Republic, where the per capita income is just over $1,000 a month, many hopeful prospects abandon school to begin training at 12, if not sooner. They are often instructed by buscones, a trainer who often feeds and coaches the player but also serves as an agent and takes a substantial cut of the amateur signing bonus.
Major League Baseball has made efforts over the years to clean up the amateur process in the Dominican Republic after the discoveries of players using false identities or performance enhancing drugs in hopes of securing a more lucrative signing bonus.