Shawon Dunston, Jr., OF
Age: 22 (2/5/1993)
How acquired—Drafted in 11th round in 2011, #339 overall out of Valley Christian High School in San Jose, California. Scouted by Ricky Schroeder.
Kane County Cougars, Midwest League, Low A (96 G, .268/.304/.381, 2 HR, 37 RBI, 27 SB)
Prior to Cubs
The son of former Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston played his high school ball in the Bay Area, hitting .319 with a OBP of .420 in 29 games as a senior. Dunston participated in the Aflac All-American Game and it was at that event he caught the eye of Vanderbilt coaches, who offered him a scholarship before his senior season. The Cubs drafted Dunston in the 11th round and then paid him a reported $1.275 million to turn pro.
Due to his late signing date, Dunston didn’t see any game action in 2011 and participated in the fall instructional league for his baptism to professional baseball. After his first spring training, Dunston stayed in Mesa for extended, and then headed to Boise making his pro debut June 15. The Northwest League was not kind to the 19-year-old as he went 12-65 in 19 games but did hit his first pro homer. Dunston returned to Mesa and responded with a slash line of .286/.357/.410 with 30 runs and 24 RBI in 39 games. For the second straight year, Dunston headed to Boise to start his season, hitting .290/.378/.358 in 49 games and had more walks (28) than strikeouts (25). He also swiped 12 bases in 14 attempts but missed three weeks of the season with a quad injury, which kept him from playing in the all-star game.
Dunston finally left Mesa in April for his first full season but spent nearly three months in an outfield platoon at Kane County. Not able to play everyday, he kept battling but only hit .237/.277/.353 after his first 42 games. No stranger to the hardships of baseball, Dunston drew on his previous experience to get through the grind of a whole season. “You are going to have doubt when you are failing and struggling, but its part of baseball,” Dunston told Northsiders Report last summer. “Baseball is a game of failure. You just have to work hard, dig a little deeper, and get better every day.”
Not only was Dunston dealing with limited playing time but he was learning a new position as he moved from center, to left. “I worked on everything on defense, including learning a new position, and I’m getting use to it,” Dunston said of the switch to left. “I grew up playing center and its good to play all three, show them you can play all three.”
He’s also learned the importance of playing defense. “I take pride in my offense and my defense. You can’t take a play off. Everyone thinks its easy and you can put anyone out there but once the guys from the infield move to the outfield, they figure out its not easy. I’m just working hard and getting better.”
Dunston’s big break came in July when right-fielder Yasiel Balaguert went on the DL and three weeks later the Cubs promoted Jacob Hannemann to Daytona. The 6-foot-2 speedster became a fixture in left, was moved up in the order, and took over the leadoff spot when Hannemann left town.
While making great strides on defense, Dunston was also adjusting his swing at the plate under the tutelage of hitting coach Tom Byers. Dunston moved his hands lower and the changed worked, hitting .295/.321/.425 over the final 37 games, including 10 doubles, three triples and a homer. Dunston also flashed his speed on the bases, scoring 28 runs during the stretch and swiping 15 bags. During the playoffs, he hit .286 with seven stolen bases and scored eight runs, helping the Cougars to seven straight wins and the MWL title.
If Dunston want to achieve his goal of becoming a big leaguer, he needs to continue on the pace he showed at the end of the year, with the glove and the bat. Like I’ve written before, there’s a backlog of young outfielders in the system in Class A and it should be quite a battle for spots once spring training opens. Look for Dunston to be on the Myrtle Beach roster and if he can progress at the same rate he finished the season with, could have a shot at a promotion to Tennessee.