It’s the question we haven’t been able to stop talking about for the past five years. At some point in the near future, Chipper Jones will retire, and when he does, there will be a void at third base to be filled. The Braves have already run through numerous “Third Baseman of the Future”s from within the organization in guys like Eric Campbell and John Gilmore, but basically because of the general attrition of prospects, they never quite developed the way everyone hoped or were traded away. The Braves currently have a couple of possibilities in Edward Salcedo and Joey Terdoslavich. Salcedo, however, is too far away to be ready by 2012 or 2013, and Terdoslavich is not a third baseman no matter how much you say he was at one point in his life (Jim Thome was a shortstop, for goodness sakes). Martin Prado is another possibility, but he’s not under team control for much longer and may be traded soon anyway (meaning the Braves probably don’t see him as the heir). Looking toward free-agency, Mark Reynolds (will be 29) and Maicer Izturis (32) are the best options, but they aren’t exactly appetizing. I may have another option.
His name is Matt Dominguez, and I imagine, if you know about prospects, that his name doesn’t exactly send you into seventh heaven. But bear with me. The situation in Miami is terrible for Dominguez, and he’s become an after-thought. The Jose Reyes signing moves Hanley Ramirez to third, and while Hanley doesn’t seem too excited about it now, I wouldn’t imagine he would be but imagine he’ll get used to the idea as Spring Training progresses. With those two entrenched on the left side of the infield, there’s nowhere for Dominguez to go, and after stumbling last season, his value might be at its lowest possible spot. But why would the Braves want someone the Marlins seem to not want?
The first reason is Dominguez’s strength - he’s an elite defensive third baseman. With exceptional range, hands, and arm, Dominguez is the best defensive third baseman in the minors, and if he steps into the majors right now, he might give Adrian Beltre and Ryan Zimmerman a run for their money, though it’s hard to be that good. But if you’re going to trade for a guy that brings most of his value on defense, you want to get use of it. For outfielders, that means being fly-ball heavy in the pitching staff, but for infielders like Dominguez, you would want a staff full of worm killers.
So let’s think about the future of the staff. Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe were the only “ground-ball” pitchers in the rotation with Jair Jurrjens around average. Well, Lowe is gone, Hudson may or may not be back next year (but probably won’t be the season after), and Jurrjens may be gone soon. That leaves Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Randall Delgado, and Julio Teheran, and all of them are fly-ball pitchers. While that does dampen the outlook of bringing Dominguez on board, those pitchers do still get ground balls, and the bullpen is actually ground-ball heavy. Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Christhian Martinez, and Cory Gearrin/Peter Moylan all get a ton of ground-balls, possibly indicating that the leverage of those ground balls could near off-setting the value lost from the rotation not getting so many ground balls.
The other reason I like him is that I wonder if the offensive worries about him are overblown. As it stands now, Dominguez has average to a tick above average power, but his approach and plate discipline haven’t really advanced in his 4 years of minor-league play. He still gets pull happy, and he’s still lacking in the ability to recognize breaking pitches. Here, obviously, comes the however. Dominguez will be 22 for most of this next season, and that means he’s been 2-3 years young for the levels he’s played in. Try learning calculus when you haven’t grasped algebra completely yet. You’re so focused on learning the basics and then grasping the new ideas that it makes it difficult to stay afloat. You would still like for Dominguez to have hit better and developed more than he has, but he hasn’t exactly failed anywhere, either. Dominguez does have some things going for him offensively. He can hit for decent power, doesn’t strike out all that much, and walks at an average or better clip, and though his swing has a long, tricky load, the swing itself isn’t too bad. The chances of him being a star, especially offensively, are limited, but I don’t see a major reason that he can’t be a solid starter in the majors. Age means a lot in regard to prospects, and Dominguez is still very young.
But the real question when it comes to acquiring talent outside of the organization is what it will cost. John Sickels labeled Dominguez as a B- player, which has a value somewhere around $5 million. If the Braves were to trade straight prospect-for-prospect, someone like JJ Hoover or Zeke Spruill might do the trick, and if it would do the trick, I’d make either deal without too much hesitation. The Marlins might also want to continue to bolster their bullpen, and the Braves have any number of those to choose from, though the big guns are obviously off the table. We, unfortunately, do not know how the Marlins truly value him, but we do know A) the two teams have made in-division trades before and B) the Marlins have no real need of Dominguez.
Dominguez certainly has his weaknesses. He hasn’t hit at an elite level since 2008, and he flopped in the majors (48 plate appearances) in 2011. And his biggest asset - infield defense - isn’t something the Braves’ rotation would particularly need. But he’s young, has potential, and plays outstanding defense regardless. I won’t say it’s a certainty that the Braves should go for him, but I think this is a possible opportunity that the Braves should pursue for a cheap “Third Baseman of the Future” that is currently better than any of their other options within the organization or through free-agency.