During a typical international signing period, the Yankees’ preference is to use their available bonus pool on a variety of players, understanding that the science of forecasting prospects is imprecise. Yet when their evaluators had the opportunity to scout Jasson Dominguez, they agreed that his potential elite-level talent made it necessary to push all-in.
So the Yanks invested nearly their entire $5.398 million international bonus pool last year on Dominguez, a hulking outfielder who owns a smooth, compact swing with excellent bat speed from both sides of the plate. As Dominguez -- the No. 54 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline -- prepares to make his professional debut, the 17-year-old nicknamed “The Martian” for his otherworldly skills has already drawn comparisons to some of the best athletes in baseball history, including Bo Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout.
“He’s the kind of player who makes the hair on your arm stand up,” said Donny Rowland, the Yankees’ director of international scouting. “We’ve signed a lot of international players per year, and we like to diversify, and we like volume. But in this case, every now and then the right player comes along. This one’s worth it. To a man, everyone on my staff agreed.”
As we wait to track the course of Dominguez’s promising career, here are the Yankees’ top international prospects of all time:
1) Mariano Rivera
The son of a Panamanian fisherman, Rivera’s first love was soccer, a sport that he abandoned following a series of ankle and knee injuries. At age 18, Rivera joined a local amateur baseball team and was invited to a tryout camp run by Yankees scout Chico Heron. Rivera had no formal pitching training and was only said to be clocked between 85-87 mph, but the Yanks’ Herb Raybourn was impressed by Rivera’s athleticism and smooth mechanics. On Feb. 17, 1990, Rivera agreed to a contract that included a signing bonus of $2,500. It turned out to be money well spent for the eventual all-time saves leader and baseball’s first unanimous Hall of Famer.
2) Bernie Williams
Hailing from Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, Williams arrived on the Yankees’ radar in the mid-1980s, having played Little League and Babe Ruth League baseball against opponents like future Major Leaguers Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez. A gold-medal track athlete, Williams was noticed by Yankees scout Roberto Rivera and signed a pro contract on his 17th birthday, dispatched to a baseball camp in Connecticut. So began a career that would see the switch-hitter tally 2,336 Major League hits and compile a .297/.381/.477 slash line with a 125 OPS+, winning four World Series rings.
3) Robinson Canó
Canó attended three years of school in Newark, N.J., before returning to his hometown of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, where he drew the attention of Yankees scout Victor Mata. The son of Jose Canó -- who pitched briefly in the Astros, Braves and Yankees organizations -- Canó merited a signing bonus in the $100,000 range and was viewed as a solid but unspectacular prospect as he began his rise through the farm system. Four years later, Canó made his Major League debut in 2005 and would bat .309/.355/.504 with a 126 OPS+ through his nine seasons in New York, earning five All-Star selections and two Gold Glove Awards.
4) Orlando Hernandez
If you ask Brian Cashman who was the best signing of his tenure, the Yankees general manager does not hesitate to identify “El Duque,” who agreed to a four-year, $5.6 million contract after defecting from Cuba prior to the 1998 season. Hernández’s arsenal, polished over a decade of service for Industriales of Havana and the Cuban National team, helped produce a 61-40 record and 3.96 ERA (116 ERA+) over 139 games with the Yankees from ‘98-2004.
5) Hideki Matsui
Matsui was already an established star when he arrived in New York at age 29 for the 2003 season, having slugged 332 homers over a decade with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese Central League. Initially signed to a three-year, $21 million deal, Matsui’s production translated to the Majors, as he compiled a .292/.370/.482 slash line with a 123 OPS+ over seven seasons with the Yankees from 2003-09. “Godzilla” had a remarkable final game in pinstripes, driving in six runs in the clinching Game 6 of the 2009 World Series and earning Most Valuable Player honors.