Last time on Prospects Progress we looked at Zac Rosscup, one of the most major league ready players in the farm system. This time we’ll swing to the other end of the spectrum and take a look at one of the young outfielders improving at the lowest levels of the farm system. The name is familiar, and while Shawon Dunston Jr. does not play the same position or have the arm that made his father famous, he is a fairly good candidate to accelerate up the system on his own merits.
But first, as always, let’s recap the purpose of the Prospects Progress series. The goal here is not to re-rank the prospects (that comes next year) or to assess the strengths and weaknesses of farm as a whole (that also comes next year). The goal for this series is to take each prospect individually, study the progress made so far, and see what we can learn about the future for that player.
There were some questions about Dunston before the season started, understandable questions given that he came out of the 2011 draft quite highly regarded, but failed to do much of anything as a professional in 2012. This year, though, we have a much clearer picture of the sort of prospect Dunston is and what we can expect from him going forward.
Shawon Dunston, OF
Born: February 5, 1993
Acquired: The Cubs took Dunston in the 11th round of the 2011 draft, but he only fell that far because he was thought to be strongly committed to Vanderbilt. It took a sizable signing bonus for the Cubs to get him into the system.
Let’s start with a disclaimer; Dunston is not a power hitter. Through 223 trip to the plate with Boise this season he managed just 10 extra base hits (8 doubles, one triple, and one home run). At 6’2″ and 170 lbs, though, I doubt Dunston is done adding muscle. His power should develop substantially over the next few years, but at the end of the day slugging is not going to be the primary facet of his game.
As evidenced by his wOBA of .358 and his wRC+ of 121, he had a very good year for Boise, but that lack of power led to an oddly lopsided slash line of .290/.378/.358. With an impressive OBP like .378 it should come as no surprise that Dunston actually walked more times (28) than he struck out (25). That led to a walk rate of 12.6% and a strikeout rate of just 11.2%. Toss in his 12 steals in 14 chances over 49 games and Dunston starts to look like a future leadoff hitter in the making.
Defensively, he’ll be just fine in center. He has the speed, the arm, and appears to be making good progress in terms of reading the ball and taking the best angle. I don’t think he’ll quite stack up to the defensive wizardry provided Ha and Almora in that position, but there do not appear to be any major concerns just yet about his glove work.
There are some additional oddities in the stats, though. As a hitter that clearly relies on getting on base and using his speed … and he has plenty of speed to use … why did he attempt only 14 steals? And for that matter, why was he not able to stretch more singles into doubles and doubles into triples?
In short, I don’t know. We can see that six of his extra base hits came in June, the first month of Boise’s season, and that half his steals came in August, the last full month, but that doesn’t tell us much. We can also see that he slumped badly in August, but that’s not exactly informative either. Slumps happen, even to legitimate prospects, and even the minors. That’s just baseball.
Digging a bit deeper, his splits are pretty even against left-handed and right-handed pitching. The numbers were overall better against lefties (.786 OPS, 50 PA) as we would expect, but his OBP is actually higher against right handers (.384 vs .360, sample size alert on that .360). That is a good sign going forward. If he can continue to get on base at a prodigious rate as he moves up the system he should have a nice career.
Right now I think the simplest and most likely theory on Dunston reflects back to the writeups on him when he was drafted. Because of his lineage, his signing bonus, and his status as a Vanderbilt signee, he was one of the more thoroughly written about of the Cubs picks that year. Many of those articles described him as “raw”. He was given that description more often than just about anyone in that draft class. The talent was there, no question about that, and scouts loved what they saw from his speed. They thought his swing would produce at least average, maybe above average, power once he fleshed out with some muscle. They liked the baseball knowledge and work ethic. And yet he was consistently referred to as project, a raw talent, a work in progress, even more so than many other high school players.
Through the 2013 season, then, I think that is how we can best evaluate Dunston. He was a guy with some great tools but who still needed to train those tools and amass the baseball in-game experience that would allow him to translate those tools into runs. Now that he has some of that needed experience under his belt, I suspect we will see just how potent those tools could be.
Two years in short season ball is probably enough. After walking his way to a .378 OBP in the Northwest League this year, I can’t see Dunston returning to that level in 2014. Next year should be the year in which he gets his first taste of a full season league as a member of Kane County. I’m not sure he’ll stay there all year, though. If he turns in another high OBP walk-fest of a performance the Cubs may very well opt to push him to Daytona and try him against the tougher pitching of the Florida State League.
What I will primarily be watching next year are the steals. If Dunston is going to make his living as a top of the order OBP threat, he needs to maximize the damage he can do with his legs on the basepaths. That will probably mean a lower success rate as he becomes more aggressive, and that is just fine, but I would like to see him become more aggressive. On paper he has the potential to swipe 50 to 60 bags a year. Hopefully we can see some more of that projection realized in game next season.
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