While he throws a fastball that reaches triple digits, he has trouble commanding it. Even worse, his secondary pitches are clearly below-average. There is clearly the potential here for him to be a late-inning arm, but there is no certainty at all that he can get there.
The above paragraph describes Jose Dominguez, who the Tampa Bay Rays recently acquired in the Joel Peralta deal. The funny thing, though, is that it could easily be talking about Jake McGee following the 2011 season. There is one thing that is worth clarifying–McGee never touched higher than 99 MPH that year–but the comparison works relatively well nonetheless.
McGee and Dominguez ended up as fireballing bullpen arms in quite different fashions. McGee was a highly regarded starting pitching prospect for several years who moved to the bullpen after Tommy John Surgery. Dominguez, meanwhile, always threw hard but was slowed by drug suspensions and control issues before zooming to the big leagues in 2013. They did end up in basically the spot, though, and that is what matters the most for us now.
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There are some differences to talk about regarding the nature of their pitches. McGee threw his fastball with rising action for a decent amount of strikes, but got into trouble when he left it in hittable spots up in the zone. Walks were never as much of a problem for him as hard contact was. Dominguez, meanwhile, has a better fastball than McGee from a velocity and movement standpoint as he touches 100 MPH much more often and gets nice late cutting action on it. He does also a few too many line drives when his heater cuts into the middle of the zone, but his bigger issue is locating it in the zone to begin with.
The sliders of McGee and Dominguez are much more similar. They threw them at almost the exact same velocity–82.24 MPH for McGee in 2011 versus 84.37 MPH for Dominguez the last two years–and neither got much movement on their sliders either. Dominguez did a slightly better job throwing his slider for strikes and experienced more success with the pitch because of that, but it still was no better than McGee’s slider from 2012 or 2013.
At the end of the day, Jose Dominguez is not precisely a right-handed Jake McGee from 2011, but the comparison certainly fits. It will be interesting to see whether the Rays attempt to fix Dominguez using the same method that worked for McGee.
In 2011, Jake McGee threw pitches other than his fastball just 17% of the time. To help him take the next step, the Rays actually had him throw his fastball more–his usage of the offering has increased each the last three years. Could the Rays start having Dominguez show even more trust in his triple-digit heater? It seems likely that they will–Dominguez has thrown his secondary pitches 27% of the time, and they will surely decrease that–but it may not be to the same extent.
McGee has been able to throw so many fastballs because his command of the pitch has improved exponentially, and we have no reason to believe that Dominguez can experience a similar jump. If there was something that the Rays did with McGee to help him in that regard, they will almost certainly try it on Dominguez as well. However, the reality is that Dominguez will likely remain a pitcher with outstanding stuff but inconsistent control. The good news, though, is that McGee exemplifies how such pitchers can work out fine.
We have been comparing 2011 Jake McGee to 2014 Jose Dominguez, but Dominguez was a year younger than McGee was and still has options remaining. He also has yet to have that up-and-down season in the big leagues like McGee had in 2011–we won’t really know how good he can be until he gets an extended chance.
It took McGee until his second big league season in 2012 to have his first breakthrough and until his fourth season this year for him to finally reach his upside. Dominguez may follow a similar timeline, and there is nothing wrong with that. It remains to be seen whether Jose Dominguez can become the next Jake McGee, but if we show him some patience, he has the ability to turn into another strong reliever for the Tampa Bay Rays.