WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Parker Dunshee’s lifelong dream came to fruition on June 11 as he was selected in the 14th round of the MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs.
One month and a day later, Dunshee announced that he would instead return to Wake Forest for his senior season.
The Demon Deacs Friday night shutdown pitcher had effectively shut down the major leagues — temporarily, of course.
“I knew what I was looking for going into the draft, for me to skip my senior year and sign. I was pretty set in what I was looking for,” Dunshee said about the decision. “It wasn’t the right offer for me at that time, and I valued coming back here for my senior year heavily. At the end of the day my heart was set in that, so I decided to come back to Wake Forest and graduate and hopefully get a professional offer next year.”
Dunshee finished 2016 with a 10-5 record, with a 3.20 ERA and 102 strikeouts. He’s the epitome of an impact returnee.
“No question, it’s a season-changer,” Wake Forest coach Tom Walter said. “The Friday night starting is more about mentality than it is stuff. Parker’s got great stuff, too. Don’t get me wrong. It’s about being a competitor and never giving in. Whatever the game dictate, finding a way to win. Parker won 10 games for us last year. You can’t replace those guys.
“Until they go out and do it, you don’t know if they will be able to handle Fridays. I’ve seen many guys pitch really well on Saturdays, and then you move them to Friday and they’re not nearly the same guy, because it’s not the same mindset. It’s more pressure. Teams are more locked in that day. The pitches you get away with on Saturday, you don’t get away with on Friday.”
Though Walter and the Wake coach staff were happy to see Dunshee return to the Gold and Black, they never tried to persuade him.
“They were pretty happy. We talked frequently before and after the draft, and during the signing period. He never pressured me either way, which I appreciate,” Dunshee said. “Every coach wants his players to get a chance to play professionally. That’s how you build a good program. You want to have players that get that opportunity. He never pressured me to do it either way, but he told me that they definitely wanted me back if I wanted to come back.”
Not only does Dunshee believe he will be able to advance his draft status in 2017, he also thinks the Deacs have the opportunity to do big things in the coming season.
“I think pitching with a little more velocity was part of it. He went to the Driveline program in Seattle. They have a velocity development program, and he posted some really good numbers out there, as far as velocity, spin rate and some of the trackman data that scouts look at,” Walter said. “Last year, he was a guy that pitched 88-90, and just competed and found a way to win. I think this year, we’re going to see more 91-93 and that’s going to get him in a different category as far as the scouts are concerned. That will get him in the top five or six rounds.
“He was honored to have been drafted. He certainly considered it, and if they had gotten to his number, he probably would have signed. He knows what his value is, and he believes in his value.”
Dunshee said he learned things at Driveline that he brought back to help the other guys at Wake.
“I didn’t really like just sitting around waiting to see what was going to happen. After that, I was working out, staying in shape and throwing just in case I signed,” he said. “After that, I went to Seattle to work out at Driveline Baseball. It was a really good experience, just working on arm strength. I feel like my arm is stronger because of that experience.”
The chance to build on the Deacs NCAA Tournament appearance was an appealing proposition for the hurler from Zionsville, Indiana.
“I think it was a good experience for the program as a whole. Getting there is a step in the right direction. This year we’re going to continue with that step and hopefully progress,” he said. “We have something good going here at Wake Forest, and I wanted to be a part of progressing where we want to be as a program.
“I valued coming and finishing what we started here at Wake Forest. Getting a degree here on time is also something I value strongly. There were a lot of factors. It would tough to not sign when I had the opportunity. It was easy to talk about not signing, but when it came down to it, it became a little harder.”
He wants to start faster than he did in 2016. After an error-plagued Friday night debacle in Raleigh against North Carolina State, Walter called on Dunshee to lead the Deacs to the postseason, and he did just that.
Dunshee tallied wins in successive series against Florida State, North Carolina, Boston College and Virginia Tech during a crucial run down the stretch of the season, then earned a win in the ACC Tournament opening round against Duke — a game which extended the Deacs life in that tourney and may have solidified their standing for an NCAA Tournament.
“I started the year with a good first start, but from the second start through the N.C. State game I didn’t feel like I was where I should have been. I want to be more prepared to be better at the start of the season,” Dunshee said. “Down the stretch I was happy with how I gave us a chance to win from Florida State on. We have to figure out how to get ready — not just to throw 85 pitches, but to be effective for the first five weeks. We’re going to face really good teams in those first couple of weekends.”
As for what kind of team the Deacs will field in 2017? Dunshee thinks it will be more balanced. Less slugging from the Deacs, and a bit more pitching, according to the Friday night ace.
“It might be different from some of the teams I’ve been in on here the last couple years that have been really offensive. This year, we’re going to need to have a more consistent pitching staff, and I think that’s going to happen,” Dunshee said. “We have a lot of pitching back. Some of the freshmen look pretty good. This should be the best pitching staff I’ve been a part of here at Wake Forest. I’m going to help the young guys grow up in the fall so that they can help us in the spring.”