The fact that the Astros have quickly assembled one of the better farm systems in baseball is old news at this point in the season. General Manager Jeff Luhnow, who was hired away from the Cardinals in December 2011, has dealt off everything not nailed down. Gone are veterans Wandy Rodriguez, Justin Maxwell, Bud Norris, and Jed Lowrie; replaced by younger and hopefully more talented assets.
Luhnow’s also drafted well, acquiring Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Mark Appel, Andrew Thurman, and personal favorite of mine shortstop Nolan Fontana, the New Greek God of Walks, in his first two years.
But one of the most underrated – if not the most underrated – move by the Houston GM has been the acquisition of third baseman Matt Dominguez. [pullquote]Over the course of one full season, Dominguez hit .248/.284/.424 with 22 doubles, a pair of triples and 24 HRs.[/pullquote]Dominguez, 23, was acquired along with left-hander Rob Rasmussen from the Marlins in early July of last season, in exchange for aging – and now retired – veteran Carlos Lee, who hit .243/.328/.325 for the Fish the rest of that year. The book on Dominguez was always glove-ready, just waiting to see if the hit tool develops. And by the looks of it this season, .239/.278/.411, there’s still quite a bit further to go.
Or is there?
Since making his debut with Houston in 2012, Dominguez has played 158 games, essentially a full big league season. Over the course of those 597 plate appearances, he hit .248/.284/.424 with 22 doubles, a pair of triples, and 24 homeruns. According to Weighted Runs Created Plus, his total offensive production has been 9% below the league average.
But once his defensive contributions are added in, Dominguez has totaled nearly three wins above replacement (Baseball Reference’s version). He’s actually been an above-average regular over his last 158 games. And there’s reason to believe he’ll continue to develop at the plate too.
Dominguez has always shown a solid-average eye at the plate in the minor leagues – he’s walked in 8.2% of his MiLB plate appearances. This season, however, it stands at just 4.8%; a marked improvement of his showing in 2012. And it’s likely to settle around 6.5% or so as he continues his development.
His batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, this season is the sixth lowest in the game at .247, about 50 points below the MLB average.
Matt Dominguez is going to take a huge step forward in terms of offensive production next season. Some of that will be legitimate development (i.e. an improved walk rate) and some of that will be from regression as his BABIP begins to normalize. Achieving three wins next season should be a reasonable start.
For the last half season of Carlos Lee’s career, the Astros picked up a third baseman that’s very likely to perform at an above-average level for the next decade. That’s how you build a team.
Photo of Matt Dominguez Courtesy of Bob Levey/Getty Images via blog.chron.com