You saw him last night. He hit 97 on the radar gun in a 1-2-3 inning, earning his first major league strikeout when he subdued Evan Longoria.
Phillies prospect Seranthony Dominguez has been in the organization for a long time … a really long time. He was signed back on Oct. 6, 2011, one day before the Phillies were eliminated by the Cardinals in the NLDS.
Despite being a member of the organization since 2011, it took Dominguez, now 23, until 2016 to make full-season ball with Lakewood, thanks in part to injures that disrupted his development. The Dominican Republic product was originally a starting pitcher, and at first, he wasn’t bad (in 10 starts with Lakewood he posted a 2.42 ERA). There were some problems though, as in only 48.1 innings he walked 20 and hit another three batters.
In 2017, Dominguez was sent to high-A Clearwater, again as a starter. After a red-hot April in which his ERA was under 0.70, a shoulder injury in May derailed his season briefly. Dominguez did return and went on to post a 3.61 ERA in 62.1 innings of work. Although his fastball was dominant, touching the high 90s, he struggled to go deep into games. Yes, the organization was cautious with him following the injury, but he appeared in 15 games for Clearwater (two relief appearances) and only went 65.1 innings, just over an average of four innings per outing. He also walked 30 in 2017.
So, this past off-season, the organization made a change that should benefit both the righty and the organization, moving him to the bullpen. Then they added him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
Dominguez started the season in double-A Reading a caught fire right out of the gate. In 13 innings, he posted a 2.08 ERA, striking out 18 while only walking two. It didn’t take long for the No. 11 prospect to catch the eye of Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, who attended a Reading game during an off day for the big club in mid-April. Many believe the main purpose of the trip was to see Dominguez (and get a steak), and he did not disappoint, going one strong inning, allowing no base runners and striking out one. His fastball hit 98 mph.
It took less than a month for the Phillies to move him to triple-A Lehigh Valley. In 3.2 innings with the Pigs, Dominguez allowed zero hits, one walk and struck out three. In total, Dominguez has gone 16.2 innings between the two levels, posting an ERA of 1.62 while striking out 21 and only walking three. His WHIP is a ridiculous 0.66.
So what exactly is Dominguez’s upside? Well, for starters, he’s a hard thrower who sits between 95 and 97 mph and touches 98-99. He counters his fastball with a solid slider that could become a dominant put-away pitch in due time. He’s also working with a changeup that should be at least average, which gives him three average-to-above-average pitches out of the pen. His control has also improved dramatically since the switch to the ‘pen.
Dominguez definitely has closer upside, especially if the slider becomes a true put-away pitch for him. In Philly he’ll have an easier role at first and slowly be put into higher-leverage situations later in the year, especially if the team is still contending. He could be used in the Andrew Miller role. Miller is one of the top relievers in baseball, yet he doesn’t close for the Indians and in some cases he doesn’t even pitch the eighth; instead, the Indians use Miller in situations that they deem to be important. He can come in with one out in the sixth with runners on, work out of the jam and then return for the seventh.
Other teams have adopted this idea as well: The Diamondbacks use Archie Bradley in that situation and the Brewers have Josh Hader. Hader and Bradley were at one point in their careers starters like Dominguez, and like Dominguez they had flaws that led them to the bullpen. Hader has been lights out, striking out 39 in 18 innings and posting a 1.00 ERA. Bradley has been great as well, posting a 1.62 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 16.1 innings. It’s also worth noting that all three guys mentioned currently play for the first-place team in their respective divisions.
The point is, sometimes the most dominant guy in the bullpen isn’t always the closer, and that could be the case for Dominguez. Seranthony Dominguez will most likely be a late-innings, high-leverage pitcher for the Phillies when all is said and done, but the Miller role would suit him well, too. Either way, the Phillies have an exciting, young, talented flamethrower on board, and he should help them win a lot of games for a lot of years.