HOUSTON — When the New York Yankees promoted Jasson Domínguez to Double-A Somerset last year, just six regular season games remained on their schedule. Yet despite being the new guy, and being just 19 years old — or nearly four years younger than the average player at the level — Domínguez was regularly one of the leaders in the team’s pregame prayer group. Through his work in the lower levels in the minors and at the team’s player development complex, he had established a reputation as someone who supported his teammates and led by example.
Through his first three games in the majors over the weekend, Domínguez has appeared at ease, assimilating into the Yankees’ clubhouse as easily as he has everywhere else. And on the field? He’s seemed just as comfortable as he did on the diamonds back in his native Dominican Republic before he signed a franchise-record $5.1-million contract at 16.
Domínguez’s two-run homer in the sixth inning provided the go-ahead runs in a 6-1 victory over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Sunday, helping secure a surprising series sweep. It was the first time the Yankees had swept Houston in a three-game series in a decade.
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) September 4, 2023
Domínguez, who also homered in his first MLB plate appearance on Friday, has once again resumed a leadership role, becoming the face of the Yankees’ late-season youth movement. The playoffs are all but out of the picture for New York, which is 8 1/2 games out of the third and final wild-card position. So they plan to use September to evaluate the top prospects they recently promoted to the majors — one eye on the present while training another eye on 2024.
“With all these guys,” manager Aaron Boone said, “we’re going to see bumps and growing pains along the way. But to come into here against a really good team in a great environment and have them handle themselves the way they have is really encouraging.”
Here’s what we learned about the new edition of the Baby Bombers over the weekend.
Domínguez handles everything thrown at him
A throng of Domínguez’s family and close friends greeted him at the Yankees’ team hotel — the posh Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston, with its view into a Rolls Royce showroom. They followed the 20-year-old to Minute Maid Park, where his parents, Felix and Dorka, and his younger brother, Felix Jr., all stood on the field, in front of the Yankees’ dugout, as he took batting practice and then he posed with them for pictures. He spoke with reporters and the YES Network before and after his debut Friday, and then did it again after Sunday’s game, except that time in near-flawless English. Between all that, he went 3-for-13 (.231) with two home runs and four RBI, striking out twice. He also played all 27 innings in center field without incident.
“He’s comfortable,” Boone said. “When he goes up to the plate, there’s not a lot of anxiety. Plays the game with ease. His skill set jumps off the page at you.”
A moment Sunday showed Domínguez’s comfort in the majors. Between innings, he grabbed Oswaldo Cabrera’s glove for him so that he didn’t have to run all the way back into the dugout to retrieve it before trotting to right field. But instead of handing it to him, Domínguez waited until Cabrera got close and then flung it in the air, spinning into Cabrera’s hands. Then the two ran side-by-side to the outfield before playing catch.
Domínguez will have another hurdle to overcome on Tuesday. That’s when he plays his first game at Yankee Stadium in front of fans who have been anticipating his arrival since 2019. He said he doesn’t know yet how he’ll respond to the Bleacher Creatures when he hears their first “roll call.”
“I think that’s going to be big time,” he said. “I think it’s going to be awesome.”
Wells — the Yankees’ No. 8 overall prospect, according to The Athletic’s Keith Law — was called up on Friday and played for the first time alongside Domínguez. He went 2-for-10 (.200) over the weekend, singling in his first at-bat Friday. On Sunday, he walked and doubled in a run. Wells, 24, has long been a bat-first prospect, but pitchers talked up how much they enjoyed game planning with him.
“He’s phenomenal (at) adjusting and a great communicator,” said Michael King, who gave up one run over five innings Sunday. “We have a ton of conversations between innings.”
Austin Wells caught three games in a row this weekend for the Yankees — his first three in the majors. Only two other times this season has a Yankees catcher caught at least three games in a row (Trevino once, Higgy once).
— Brendan Kuty 🧟♂️ (@BrendanKutyNJ) September 4, 2023
The running game had been a problem in the minors for Wells, who had a weak arm when he was drafted but has worked to make it approximately league-average, according to catching coach Tanner Swanson. But on Sunday, he threw out the first runner who tried to steal on him in the majors, getting the quick Mauricio Dubon with a near-perfect throw to second base for the second out in the fifth inning. Whether Wells remains in the position long-term is still a question, but he’s determined to make it work.
“Hitting is definitely important,” Wells said, “but being able to go out there and get outs and control the pitching staff, that’s my No. 1 goal.”
“He’s got a really good presence to him,“ Boone said. “He’s got the joy of preparing, of all that goes into getting ready for a game. He likes that part of the game. That serves him well. I think he’s done a great job with our staff and behind the plate.”
Judge’s locker was in the back-left corner of the visiting clubhouse. Placed at the locker immediately to his right? Domínguez. And who was to the right of Domínguez? Wells. Then it was Everson Pereira, another well-regarded outfield prospect, followed by Cabrera. It seems unlikely that the Yankees randomly put their newly summoned prospects — Domínguez and Wells — at the side of their team captain.
After Domínguez spoke to reporters Sunday night, Judge smiled at the youngster as he changed into street clothes to board the team’s private jet.
Boone said he felt the new guys had assimilated “great” into the clubhouse.
“That’s not only a credit to them and I think player development preparing them,” Boone said, “but also the Aaron Judges and the veterans in that room that are excited to have them and doing their part to make sure that they are comfortable. They do feel at home walking in here. I feel like that’s been a strength of ours for years, getting people assimilated quickly.”
Wells said that it felt like “we’ve been here all year.” Domínguez went a step further.
“They feel like family,” he said.
Boone backs the boss
Last week, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner told The Associated Press that the organization was thinking of hiring an “outside company” to examine its inner workings, especially considering how disappointing the team has been this season. Steinbrenner mentioned by name the club’s analytics department. Boone said he liked the idea, but added that he expects a full overview of the organization rather than just its analytics team.
“I think it’s something that they’re looking at everything,” Boone said. “I think it’s something that we’ve, on some level, wanted to do for years. There’s just a lot that goes into that, going in and breaking down every department. … Look, the more oversight you can have on everything you’re doing to try to — always trying to find that higher ground in everything we do. I think it’s a great thing.”
(Photo of Yankees’ center fielder Jasson Domínguez being embraced by Aaron Judge after Saturday’s win over the Astros: Kevin M. Cox / Associated Press)