Climbing the hill in this episode of C’s Chat is 2022 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Michael Dominguez.
Born in Newport News, Virginia, Dominguez starred on the mound at Jefferson High School in Tampa. The righthander put up an earned run average of 0.73 in his senior season in 2019 and struck out two batters per inning by sitting down 88 batters in 44 frames. He played a huge role in Jefferson’s State Championship title in 2018 by leading the Dragons with a complete-game performance with 12 strikeouts and struck out 12 more hitters in another start on the road to the big game.
Perfect Game profiled Dominguez as a pitcher to watch.
“Michael Dominguez is a 2019 RHP with a 5-11 175 lb. frame from Tampa, FL who attends Jefferson HS. Medium frame with slender, athletic build. Righthanded pitcher, plus arm speed immediately stands out, creates plane to the plate from high three quarters slot, quality extension, uses lower half well. Fastball worked 89-92 mph, mostly straight but flashes solid arm side life, works down in zone with and can elevate. Showed slider with sharp two-plane break, pitch will be a bat-misser for him as he continues to throw it harder, also flashed a changeup to lefthanded hitters that was effective. Mixed and matched three pitches and was very good. Named to 2019 World Showcase Top Prospect List.”
The Toronto Blue Jays liked what they saw of Dominguez and drafted him in the 15th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft. Signed by scout Brandon Bishop, Dominguez received a $197,500 signing bonus.
Baseball America believed Dominguez was the best late-round pick of Toronto’s draft three years ago.
“With a smaller, compact frame at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, RHP Michael Dominguez (15) doesn’t jump out physically, but he had immediate success in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He’s a strike-thrower who pitches at 89-93 mph with good deception, reaches 95 mph and throws a solid breaking ball.”
Dominguez was assigned to the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays in 2019 and collected his first win as a professional with three shutout innings against the GCL Tigers West July 26. He tossed 24 innings and struck out 29 batters against 10 walks while putting up an ERA of 1.13.
The 2020 minor league season was cancelled due to COVID and Dominguez had another obstacle to overcome as he had a UCL injury to his right elbow. That delayed the start of 2021 for Dominguez who returned to the mound for four appearances with the GCL Jays in July. He was then promoted to Dunedin and earned his first full-season win by striking out nine batters and allowing just one run on three hits and a walk in five innings against Palm Beach September 2. With the D-Jays, Dominguez compiled an ERA of 3.34 and rung up 31 batters against 12 walks over 29-2/3 innings.
The 2021 campaign did not end there for Dominguez as he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League where he struck out 22 batters and walked 13 over 21-2/3 innings, winning one of three decisions with a 4.98 ERA for the Mesa Solar Sox.
This season, Dominguez returned to Dunedin and logged 51 innings in which he struck out 66 batters and walked 19. He got the call to go to Vancouver July 22 and made his C’s debut against Everett July 27, giving up an earned run over three innings. His second start saw him spin three shutout innings and strike out six in his next start against Tri-City on a rainy Wednesday night at the Nat August 3. Dominguez turned in his longest start of the year by pitching five innings and surrendering two runs while striking out seven in a hard-luck loss Hillsboro August 24.
C’s Plus Baseball chatted with the 22 year-old Dominguez during the club’s homestand against Tri-City in early August.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
C’s Plus Baseball – You were drafted from Jefferson High School in Tampa. What was your draft experience like?
Michael Dominguez – That’s one of the most exciting moments obviously for any high school guy or college guy. I mean, there’s a process. (Getting those) calls from all different scouts and just talking to them and just getting their feedback on what they think about you and kind of where they see you, like what round you’re going in and everything. I had a good idea that I was going to come to the Jays because that’s the team that I got the most interest from. Just the whole process was really nice. Once I saw the draft and heard my name, it was just like a surreal moment. It was an unbelievable moment. I couldn’t be more happier.
CPB – Were you at home at the time?
MD – I was home with my Mom and my little sister. My dad and my big sister, they were working so they were kind of like watching the draft on their phones. I was kind of nervous. I didn’t know if I was going to get taken that day. And once I got the call from my (advisor) who told me, ‘Hey, the Jays want to pick you up in the 15th (round)’. I was like, ‘Man, let’s do it, let’s do it.’ My Mom, my little sister and me, we were all like really emotional. My Dad got there like two minutes after they had called my name and stuff. So it was like a really emotional moment for me and my family.
CPB – You had the chance to maybe go to Florida State if things didn’t work out (with the Jays). Was that a really tough decision for you to wrestle with going pro versus going to college?
MD – It was. I mean, obviously everybody wants to get their college experience. Me being a younger guy, I had to really think it through. A high school ball player might not have the same experience as a college guy, way more competition in college. It was a tough decision but my family was behind me the whole way and they told me, ‘Hey, whatever you want to do do, you go ahead and do it and we’re going to back you up the whole way.’ I was like, ‘You know what? I’m ready to start my professional career and let’s get to it.’
CPB – How did you get started in baseball?
MD – I started playing when I was about six or seven years old. For some reason, I always loved baseball. My Dad Rafael played in Cuba and my brother played here. It just runs in the family. I just always loved baseball since I was a little kid. You’d always see me with a glove and a ball in my hands. You always knew that I was going to be a baseball player. So since I was small, I kind of knew already I wanted to be a baseball player.
CPB – What level did your father and brother play at?
MD – My father, he played baseball until he was called to the (military) service in Cuba. He had an injury, an incident there and after that, he was never the same so he quit playing. And my brother Rayfe played in Cuba. He was going to make the Cuban National Team but ended up coming to the United States with my Dad and played some high school ball in Tampa where I went to high school. He played some college ball in Virginia and he was going to get signed by a team but some things happened and ended up going to the service after that.
CPB – Growing up in Tampa. Who did you cheer for?
MD – It was a little 50-50 because sometimes I like the Rays and then the Yankees being from Tampa, it’s either you’re a Rays fan or a Yankees fan. My brother’s a big Yankees fan and my Dad’s a big Rays fan, so there’s always conflict there. So I mean, I had to pick and choose which team I wanted to go with.
CPB – Did you know a lot about the Blue Jays growing up?
MD – I used to watch a couple games from like the Blue Jays before when I was younger. I watched José Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. I liked those guys, like big homer guys, Josh Donaldson.
CPB – Did you have a favorite player growing up?
MD – I always liked Mariano Rivera. That was one of my inspirations. And when I was small, they used to call me “Little Mariano” so that was my favourite guy.
CPB – Looking back in your baseball career, what would you say was your best memory growing up?
MD – High school, my junior year, the first state championship title in my high school’s history. The background of my high school, we had guys like Tino Martinez and Fred McGriff go there. They lost in the semifinals. Just being able to take the team to the State finals and win it. It was super, it’s a surreal moment. And being the first team in 75 years of school history to win States for the school, it was unbelievable.
CPB – When did you take up pitching?
MD – I was about seven. I mean, I always had a pretty good arm for my age. I would always play either third base or first base. One day my coach would say, ‘Hey, Mike. You want to try pitching?’ ‘For sure. Why not?’ And I started pitching and like I said, I had a pretty good arm for my age and it just all began from there.
CPB– Talk about what you’re throwing right now. What is your pitch mix?
MD – I got three pitches. Fastball, slider, changeup. Best pitch right now is my fastball. The slider I’ve kind of been working with it throughout the years and the change. It’s a good pitch right now but obviously it can always get better. But my fastball is my really good pitch right now. That’s my go-to, the fastball.
CPB – Is it a four-seam fastball or two-seam?
MD – Just a four-seam,
CPB – Your slider. Did anyone teach you that or show you a grip or did you figure that out yourself?
MD – When I signed, I used to throw a curveball. It wasn’t that great. And last year in Dunedin, Pop (Blue Jays pitching development coordinator pitcher Cory Popham) showed me a grip. He was like, ‘Try it out, grip it like this and throw it like this.’ And it was just like instant. Like I got it down. Thanks to him. I finally have a pretty good slider.
CPB – And where do you feel your changeup is at right now?
MD – Some days, tt’s really good. I mean, some days it’s alright. That’s my third pitch. It’s just something I got to keep working on and keep getting the feel for it. Maybe changing the grip and just practicing
CPB – Your delivery. It’s kind of a false start and then you make the pitch. Is that a delivery you’ve always had?
MD – Yeah, that’s something I’ve always had. I’ve worked on that like for years constantly, like mechanics and stuff like that nonstop. In the offseason. I just work on my mechanics. It’s how I’ve always done it.
CPB – Is that something you picked up from someone? I know Johnny Cueto is someone who did that. Marcus Stroman would do that occasionally.
MD – Yeah. Watching Marcus Stroman. He was also one of my favorite pitchers. People say like, ‘Oh, you look like Marcus Stroman.’ I mean, like height wise and just how I throw the ball and stuff like that. Definitely watching him and just kind of like putting it into practice. Yeah. Marcus Stroman. Definitely one of my role models and I take after him a little bit.
CPB – Your pro career started out in 2019. You were at the Gulf Coast League as it was known back then. What was your introduction to baseball like that season?
MD – It was unbelievable for me. I would look and I was like, ‘Oh my God, am I really a professional baseball player right now?’ The whole season, it was just so unbelievable to me that I was actually there. I mean, so many guys dreams to play professional baseball and I’m here. I was with Toronto and I’m 18 years old, a young guy. They took me in as one of their own. They made the process really easy. I mean, from high school to pro ball, it may be harder, for some guys like that making that transfer but the Jays made it really easier for me and I got come through right away. It’s a really good organization.
CPB – COVID hit in 2020, there was no baseball. How did you keep going through all that?
MD – I was in a good spot going to spring training in 2020. Once they said we weren’t having a season, I was like, like ‘My God, I’m just starting my pro career and COVID hit, this is unbelievable.’ But I mean, I just got ready and just trained as hard as I could and took that time off to really focus on getting stronger, working on my pitches and just getting ready for the next season.
CPB – 2021 comes around and you’re in the Florida Complex League and then Dunedin, you got to stay closer to home for another season. What was 2021 like for you?
MD – I was actually injured at the beginning of the year. It was a little rough patch for me but I came back from rehab. I got to throw a couple innings in the FCL. And actually Brent (C’s manager Brent Lavallee) was my coach at the time. Great guy. And then going to Dunedin, it was exciting and way more competition than you see in the GCL but it was exciting.
CPB – In 2022, you start back again with Dunedin. How did you feel your start to the season went?
MD – The beginning of the year was a little shaky. Trying to find myself, find my rhythm back into the game. And it took a little bit for me but I just worked hard on just trying to figure out what I was doing wrong and trying to perfect all my pitches and get back to how I was before the first half. It wasn’t great but I didn’t let that control me. I came back in the second half, had really good outings and I’m here now.
CPB – Before you got here to Vancouver, you had a chance to check out the Player Development Complex. Is there any specific way it’s helped you as a pitcher?
MD – Yeah. I mean the Player Development Complex has literally anything you can imagine from the best equipment in the gym to the pitching lab, which is really, really great. All the technology, all the cameras that get every single angle of like your mechanics, your movements, all the slow-mo stuff. Definitely the PDC is one of the best, if not the best complex to develop guys right now in baseball. Everything they got there is just top of the line. It’s a really good spot to develop.
CPB – Was there anything you learned about yourself that maybe you didn’t know from before as far as your pitching goes?
MD – There’s always something you can learn. I’m a guy that every single outing, good or bad, I always learn something and take away something from it. I’m a guy that watches a lot of videos on myself and kind of always look at the small details and know, ‘Alright, if I threw this pitch here, maybe I didn’t want to throw it there.’ Maybe like my mechanics were not like how I wanted. I’m always trying to learn, always asking questions. And I mean, we’re working on a lot of stuff now in the bullpen. The pitching coaches are helping me with a couple things. We’re getting to work on some stuff. Definitely always some room to learn new things.
CPB – You got the promotion for Vancouver. How did you find out about it?
MD – Right after the All-Star break, we had a practice the day before our game. I wasn’t supposed to throw a bullpen that day, but the pitching coach (Drew Hayes) was like, ‘Hey, they want you to throw a bullpen day, this and that. And I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not going to ask any questions. Like, all right, that’s fine.’ I throw my bullpen. The pitching coach calls me to the office. And the manager (C’s 2021 manager Donnie Murphy). It kind of scared me because we’ve had a couple meetings, me and the manager about some things. And he was like, ‘Hey, this has been like the fifth meeting I’ve had with you all season. Like I’m tired of it. And that’s why we’re sending you to Vancouver!’ And now I was like, ‘Oh my God.’. (laughs) I was kind of scared. And I was like, ‘Oh man.’ But then when he told me, I was so excited. I’ve always wanted to come here. Just the atmosphere, just from seeing it from following the Vancouver page on Instagram, I’ve always wanted to come here and experience that. And I’m here now and this is a great experience, honestly.
CPB – Your first time here in Canada. What’s it been like for you?
MD – it’s nice. I mean the weather’s great. I definitely have to get out a little bit more. I haven’t explored much of Canada. I’ve been to downtown a little bit but obviously the atmosphere here, I mean, people know you. I mean, people that come to the games, you’ll go places and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, you play for the Van Canadians.’ And they’ll like want pictures or want like an autograph or something. Things like that I’ve never experienced before. Obviously it’s not the big leagues but I mean, this is a really good experience. Just all the fans, it’s really nice.
CPB – I don’t think that was something you’re used to pitching in Dunedin as not a lot of people go to their games, Was it tough for you to focus on the mound the first time you were out here?
MD – My first outing, there was a good amount of people here. Honestly, like the nervousness is going through your head. I mean, the adrenaline is pumping and stuff like that but for me, I’ve always been one to kind of like block it out. You obviously know that there’s fans there and you can hear everybody just chanting and like screaming. But I’ve always been one to just like, me and the catcher, focus on that and just let the fans be something that’s not going to distract me too much. Like you said, Dunedin doesn’t get many fans but here to get like 5,000, 6,000 fans a night, wow!
CPB – Your second outing here was a pretty wet one, but you did pretty well striking out six batters. What was that like pitching those kind of conditions?
MD – Being from Florida, I think I’m a little bit used to that, the mixed climates and stuff like that. I mean, sometimes it’ll be sunny out and looks really nice for baseball and then it starts raining. So, I mean, I’ve pitched a couple games that’s been like that. It was a little difficult. I tried to just stay focused and just get out of the innings as fast as I could. It was really wet. The mound was all wet and I just tried not to focus on that and not let that distract me and take me out of the game. Just keep on going and keep on pounding the zone and getting guys out.
CPB – Final question. What are your goals for 2022 and beyond?
MD – Just finish the season strong, whether it be here, whether it be in Double-A, I mean, who knows? Just not focusing too much on the future, just focusing on today and what I got to do today. Focusing on how I can get better for the next outing and just going off of that and focus in on the moment.
Uniform Numbers – Wore number 33 with the Dunedin Blue Jays in 2022. Wore 51 with the Florida Complex League Blue Jays and number 43 with Dunedin in 2021.
Instagram – @michael_dominguez20
Jefferson High School Alumni/Vancouver Mounties Connection – Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa attended Jefferson and played in Vancouver during the 1968 season.
Thanks a million to Michael Dominguez and C’s broadcaster Tyler Zickel for making this chat happen.