Shawon Dunston, Jr. came to the Cubs as part of the 2011 draft spending spree, shelling out $1.275 million to pry the 11th round legacy pick away from a commitment to Vanderbilt University. Scouting reports at the time universally praised his athleticism as an outfielder but were also fairly unanimous that he was quite raw, and the fact that the Cubs gave him enough money to pry him away from college seemed somewhat unexpected. Here’s what BA had to say at the time of the draft:
While the elder Dunston was drafted out of high school…most scouts believe his son would be better off going to Vanderbilt, where he's a key recruit. Dunston has a slender, 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame, and it's obvious that his best baseball is in front of him, and he's surprisingly raw. He is an above-average runner, which helps both on the bases and in center field. Unlike his father, he swings from the left side of the plate. As Dunston fills out, he could grow into gap power and be an average hitter. Scouts love his speed, passion for the game and bloodlines, but they may not want to buy him out of school at this point.
The rawness that scouts saw as a draft prospect manifested itself in Dunston’s 2012 season at Boise, where he struggled to a .577 OPS and earned a demotion to the AZL. Dunston would call this “the most humbling thing that’s happened to me,” saying that “It was the first time like I really felt I’d failed in baseball.” Regaining his confidence at the lower level, Dunston finished the season with a .767 OPS in Arizona and left ready to challenge Boise again in 2013.
Dunston has acquitted himself admirably in his 2013 season for the Hawks, posting a .290/.378/.358 line in 49 games, stealing 12 bases and posting a walk rate higher than his strikeout rate (12.6% compared to 11.2%). While he will never be a masher, his .067 ISO on he season is a precipitous drop from last year’s .124 and .138 marks at Arizona and Boise, respectively. That’s a bit concerning, but he’s still just twenty years old and there’s still time for him to grow into a bit of the gap/doubles power scouts projected for him at the time of the draft.
A leg injury sapped some of the positive momentum out of Dunston’s season, sending him to the DL on July 21st and keeping him out for three weeks. Upon returning on August 15th through the rest of the season, Dunston hit only .200 with only one extra base hit (a double).
Overall, 2013 was a step in the right direction for Dunston, who needed a good performance in his second attempt at Boise and gave one.
Take a look at these two videos, the first recorded in 2010, well before Dunston was drafted, and the other from this July.
Neither of these are at great angles, but even so, you can see how the high school Dunston’s swing looks long, loose, unbalanced, and kind of whippy. Contrast that to Dunston’s swing now, where he looks much more balanced, more direct to the ball, and not at all seeming like he’s going to fall over after every swing like he does in his high school BP. If nothing else, it’s an interesting benchmark along the road of a player refining his raw tools into professional baseball skills.
Dunston’s speed grades out between 60-65 on the 20-80 scale depending on which scout you ask, and he’s been a successful threat in 2013, stealing 12 bags against only 2 CS. I would have thought the lousy performance upon returning from his leg injury might reflect him coming back before he was completely healthy, but half of Dunston’s stolen bases on the season came after he returned to the lineup, which seems to undermine that notion. Sometimes a slump is just a slump, I suppose.
I haven’t seen grades on his arm or defense, but the general sentiment among reports is that his arm is good, but not quite as powerful as his father’s, which is certainly an ambitious benchmark to live up to. Nobody really has anything to say about his defense in center, which makes me think it’s probably neither good nor bad for his level of development.
The big question mark is Dunston’s power, and whether or not he can drive enough balls into gaps for doubles to keep pitchers careful with him and let his solid approach come to light.
Dunston has performed well enough to earn his first taste of full-season ball in Kane County next season, and should start 2014 as Albert Almora’s replacement in center. Where he goes from there depends on whether or not he can develop enough strength and in-game power to make his solid OBP/contact skills play. As it stands, he will likely face enough wild pitchers to maintain a nice-looking average and OBP until he gets to Tennessee, where he’ll face the same challenges to his soft-spoken bat that Matt Szczur is currently struggling with. How he responds to pitchers that can control the strike zone and challenge him hard inside will really be what solidifies or implodes his future as a major league prospect.