For Astros fans of a certain age, Ken Caminiti is the standard bearer for defense at third base. Sure, there have been other great Astros third baseman, like Doug Rader or Bob Aspromonte. But, Caminiti was part of that core in the early 90's that bridged the gap between the 80's playoff teams and that late 90's run by Biggio and Bagwell.
There are two halves to Caminiti's career, one with average power and then one with great power production and an MVP-caliber season for the Padres. We also know that one of the reasons for that change was probably steroids, as Caminiti admitted to using PEDs after his retirement.
It's those first three years of his career that I'm most interested in. From 1989 to 1991, Caminiti hit like this:
It's also worth noting that those three seasons consisted of Caminiti's Age 26, 27 and 28 seasons. Cammy didn't win a starting job at third until he was 26 years old, though he played in parts of the previous two seasons in the majors.
Sound familiar yet? Matt Dominguez may not be the second coming of Caminiti, but he could certainly be as productive as Cammy was in those first three seasons. Dominguez is projected to hit .251/.298/.383 this season by ZiPS with a 5.5 percent walk rate. If he can up that walk rate to something like 7 percent, he could bump that OBP up close to .310.
Will his glove make him valuable enough to stick in the lineup in that case? For Caminiti, the answer was yes. But, Caminiti also had a much better track record for hitting in the minors than Dominguez did. Plus, Cammy was hitting in the dank dungeon that is the Astrodome. If we normalized his hitting environment for the 2012 Astros in MMP, Cammy's line in 1989 moves up to .265/.326/.386 with 11 home runs and 33 doubles.
Dominguez was drafted out of high school, while Caminiti was a college draftee. That gives Dominguez a three-year advantage in age and to try and develop his bat. Even without much improvement over his projections, Dominguez could still be a two win player this season, thanks to his excellent glove.
The biggest thing linking these two is that they started their careers as defense-first third basemen. If Dominguez can improve his walk rate slightly in the next few years, he should also have an edge on Caminiti in the power department (pre-enhancements). The skeptics will point to Dominguez' low walk rate in Triple-A as evidence he won't improve much, but Dominguez did have a solid walk rate in the minors prior to reaching Triple-A in 2011.
More than anything, though, this comparison should show us that it's very hard for a good glove, no bat third baseman to break into a big league lineup in the first place. Caminiti eventually did and hit better and better. We can only hope Dominguez follows a similar progression.