Complex Leagues primer: Dominguez debuts

June 28th, 2021
Cliff Welch/

Happy Opening Day, again. More specifically, happy Jasson Dominguez Day at last.

Monday, June 28 marks the first day of the Arizona and Florida Complex Leagues (formerly named the Arizona and Gulf Coast Leagues, respectively) regular seasons. True to their names, both Rookie-level circuits are traditionally held on the backfields of Major League clubs’ Spring Training homes in the Sunshine and Grand Canyon States.

If these leagues sound like they are a long way away from the bright lights of The Show, it’s because they very much are, but that doesn’t make them any less important for the development of the game’s young talents. For drafted players, the Complex Leagues are opportunities to get their young careers going. For international players, these are chances to get accustomed to the pro game in the United States in a more controlled environment than can be found in full-season ball.

Is that not enough of a reason to pay attention to the FCL and ACL? Try this on for size -- No. 24 overall prospect Jasson Dominguez is making his professional debut for the Yankees’ FCL club.

The 18-year-old phenom has been pegged as one of the Minors’ most exciting talents with five tools that all grade out as at least above-average. He signed with New York for $5.1 million in July 2019 and is only now seeing the Minors officially following last year’s canceled season. Dominguez could be one of the game’s next big stars. He’s starting his career in the Florida Complex League. That alone should draw plenty of attention to the lowest rung of the Minor League domestic ladder.

Here are some other elements to follow ahead of the 2021 Florida and Arizona Complex League seasons:

What’s new

Well, there are the names. Using the ACL and FCL acronyms, rather than AZL and GCL, could take some getting used to, but that will come in time.

More importantly, both circuits, along with the Dominican Summer League (expected to begin next month) are the only short-season leagues in town these days. The consolidation of the Minor Leagues means the next stop above Arizona and Florida is Low-A, and that can be quite a jump for teenagers with limited pro experience. That could lead to younger prospects spending more time than ever in complex leagues before organizations feel comfortable sending them to Low-A leagues in California, Florida and the South Atlantic region.

In part to accommodate that, the roster limits have changed for both the ACL and FCL. Technically, there is no maximum number of players that can be on a complex league roster, according to the Major League rulebook. More practically, each organization is allowed 180 players on its Domestic Reserve List, and the active roster limits at Triple-A (28), Double-A (28), High-A (30) and Low-A (30) eat it into that. There is still enough space remaining for two complex teams, should clubs decide to have such an arrangement. Indeed, the Tigers, Orioles and Pirates in the FCL and the Giants, Brewers and Royals in the ACL are scheduled to have two complex affiliates in 2021.

The schedule

Both leagues are scheduled to open play Monday and close out their regular seasons on Sept. 18. Most teams are scheduled to play 60-game seasons, except for those in the FCL East and North Divisions that are slated for 58 contests in 2021. Most FCL games have 10 a.m. or 12 p.m. local time starts, while ACL games can open later at night to avoid the brutal Arizona heat. Both complex leagues are completely off on Sundays. ACL and FCL schedules can be viewed at those links.

Prospects of note

The below is a list of prospects ranked among their organization’s Top 10 talents that have been confirmed on ACL or FCL rosters. The list will be updated as more rosters are officially revealed Monday.

Jasson Dominguez, Yankees OF (No. 1, MLB No. 24)
Yes, we mentioned him above, but the man known as The Martian deserves two references because he carries that much weight in short-season ball. Dominguez’s wheels can play straight away in the FCL on both the basepaths and in center field, and his special bat speed could send balls screaming across Florida for the coming weeks and months. A word of caution: Dominguez has no pro experience. Even five-tool teenagers might need some time to grow into the game. It’s why the Yankees kept their top prospect from jumping straight to Low-A ball in 2021, and it’s why Dominguez deserves a grace period as he gets going.

Maximo Acosta, Rangers SS (No. 4)
Last fall, the Rangers pushed Acosta to the instructional league, where he was the organization’s youngest player at just 17. Now, the organization has deemed the Venezuela native, who signed for $1.65 million in July 2019, ready for a more fully fledged stateside debut in the ACL. Acosta is most well-known for his ability to work the strike zone at such a young age, and he earns points for good defensive instincts and a strong arm that should keep him at short. The power will likely be the last thing to come, but all the other pieces are there to be at least above-average.

Andry Lara, Nationals RHP (No. 5)
Another July 2, 2019 signing that is skipping over the DSL and moving stateside. Lara was inked for $1.25 million coming out of Venezuela two years ago and already has some experience in the US after he rode out last year’s pandemic with the Nats in Florida. He stands out most for his 93-94 mph fastball that features good spin, and his breaking ball earns above-average grades as well. With a January birthday, Lara will be 18 for the entire 2021 season, and it’s a promising sign that Washington made him its FCL Opening Day starter right from the jump.

Patrick Bailey, Giants C (No. 6)
It may have come as quite a shock to see last year’s 13th overall pick assigned to ACL Giants Orange on Saturday, and that was likely not a move that either party wanted to make. But it’s been a dismal June for Bailey, who missed 10 days with a back issue and has gone just 7-for-47 (.149) over 12 games at High-A Eugene. The NC State produce is known primarily for his defensive work, but a .185/.290/.296 slash line over his first 33 games isn’t up to par with his offensive capabilities either. Whether this is a paper move to give him a breather or a limited look to allow him to find himself offensively again, Giants fans will want to pay attention to Bailey’s time in Arizona.

Erick Peña, Royals OF (No. 7)
Peña is slated to play for ACL Royals Blue, for those keeping score at home. Kansas City gave some thought to sending the 18-year-old outfielder to Low-A Columbia after allowing him to play in Major League Spring Training but decided against it, hoping he could establish a better base of success in Arizona. Peña has above-average potential with both his hit and power tools from the left side and also has a decent chance to stick up the middle in center. Given his advanced looks already, he might need less of a transitional period than others his age.

Tink Hence, Cardinals RHP (No. 8)
Promising debuts by Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn have already given the Cardinals’ 2020 Draft class a good name. Hence -- the 63rd overall pick last year -- can add to that notoriety this month when he debuts in Florida. The 6-foot-1 right-hander draws good reviews for a mid-90s fastball and plus slider, and in typical style for a prep arm, he will need to continue to develop his changeup. The Cardinals are confident Hence has the right delivery to make the most of his short frame and package of pitches. It’s worth noting that Hence won’t turn 19 until August, making him young even for such a low level.

Reginald Preciado, Cubs SS (No. 10)
It’s been quite the career for Preciado already. The switch-hitting shortstop signed with the Padres for $1.3 million in July 2019, a record for a player coming out of Panama. Before he could make his Minor League debut for San Diego, Preciado was traded to the Cubs last December in the move that sent Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini the other way. It isn’t hard to see why the 18-year-old was coveted by Chicago. Preciado shows above-average hitting ability from both sides, and at 6-foot-4, he has a projectable frame that could draw more power. He might actually be too big for shortstop in time, but his arm certainly fits the position for now. At the very least, it’ll be good to see him on the field for the first time in his second uniform.

Roberto Campos, Tigers OF (No. 10)
It’s officially an FCL Tigers West assignment for the 18-year-old outfielder in his first taste of pro ball. Campos signed with Detroit for $2.85 million out of the Dominican Republic three years after defecting from Cuba. The Tigers were willing to go big on the right-handed slugger because of his potential ability to drive the ball to all fields and his projectable frame at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. The hit tool remains a question because it’s been so long since Campos played a competitive regular-season game. Answers could be coming in Lakeland soon.

Blaze Jordan, Red Sox 3B (No. 10)
Power, power and more power. That’s what the Red Sox knew they were getting when they selected Jordan in the third round of last year’s Draft. The right-handed slugger was already hitting 500-foot homers with a metal bat at 13 and continued to showcase pop deeper into his teens, including during his High School Home Run Derby win at the 2019 All-Star Game in Cleveland. But the Sox aren’t developing Jordan for tape-measure shots alone. The 18-year-old third baseman is incredibly raw with his overall hit tool, due primarily to swing-and-miss tendencies he was showing even in high school, and he’ll need to address that in the FCL if he’s ever going to make the most of that pop.