2011 MLB Draft Q&A: Shawon Dunston, Jr.

With a name that most fans are familiar with, Shawon Dunston, Jr. has worked hard to carve out a space of his own in baseball. We sat down with the talented centerfielder from California to discuss committing to a school across the country, changing his throwing hand growing up, and what it is like having a father who has deep roots in the Major Leagues.

I will be running a new interview with one of the best MLB draft prospects 2011 has to offer each Sunday and Wednesday up until June, and you can click here to find an up to date archive of them all.

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Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is your current height and weight?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: I'm about 6'1 ½" to 6'2", 170-172 lbs.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: A lot of the high school guys I speak to have just started to get into the focus of developing their bodies for a career as a professional athlete. Are you in that camp?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: This summer I couldn't really work out that much because I was playing constantly and going to showcases in an effort to make a name for myself not just in California, but around the country. After the Aflac game I took three months off to focus on signing with the best school option and I was working out three times a week. Then starting on Halloween through January 31st I was on a workout regiment that I actually still follow even though the original period is over. I'm still following it two to three times a week to maintain the weight I gained and to get even stronger, because my flaw that people point to is strength and having a "weak body," so I'm working hard to get stronger and become more physically built.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So were your workouts more focused on strength and mass rather than speed and quickness stuff?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: It was very focused on legs. I had hamstring surgery about a year and a half ago, so I've been working on getting back my speed and wanted to focus on my legs and flexibility. I've been getting some mass, but not too bulky - just enough to put those pounds on me that will allow me to endure more stuff.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Obviously we know about baseball when it comes to your abilities, but do you, or did you, play any other sports growing up?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: I played basketball through my 8th grade year, but then I stopped when I got to high school. I go to a pretty good private school and my dad told me I had to choose one because basketball and baseball overlap too much. So I chose baseball because I knew that's what I wanted to be, and that's what I wanted to do.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When was the first time you truly realized that you had a chance to do something long term with baseball?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: In Little League I was really fast, but I couldn't really throw yet and was still trying to figure out the game – I didn't really know what I was doing yet. Freshman year in high school I was on the freshman team, and then bumped up to varsity as a sophomore. I started to realize it then, when I was playing against top tier guys. One guy I remember was Nick Vander Tuig who was throwing 90-93 MPH and is now at UCLA, and here I am facing him as a sophomore, and I had a double off him. A few other guys who were seniors I hit well, too, so it was that point once I hit sophomore year that I realized that I could do something with this – playing baseball and potentially going really far with it. That summer I went to a talent showcase, hit a couple of homeruns in batting practice, and thought "I have a chance to be pretty good, I just need to keep working on my game every day."

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Vandy is one of the best baseball schools in the country, but what was it that led you specifically to them?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: The school's atmosphere. When I got there for my official visit I loved it up there; I wanted to commit as soon as they offered me, but my parents wanted me to wait and not rush into anything, make sure that I had my SAT/ACT stuff correct so I could satisfy the school's requirements, and I did. The funny thing was that USC had always been my dream school to go to with me being from the Bay Area, and I hadn't even thought about going to Vanderbilt until the end of the summer after the Aflac game when they started talking to me. Two weeks later I went out there for a visit, and then everything else went gravy; I knew I wanted to go to Vanderbilt. Coach Corbin runs a great program, is a great guy, and a very good coach. Coach Holliday, the hitting coach, definitely knows his stuff with his brother Matt Holliday as a premier player in the Major Leagues for the Cardinals. I wanted to play with a program that produces very high draft picks because I expect myself to be a 1st rounder if I do end up going to college.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: With you having grown up in the Bay Area, what is it going to be like for you going east?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: It's going to be different, but I'm up for the challenge. After USC and UCLA I actually wanted to be away from home for college, I told myself I wanted to play in the SEC and go somewhere far. They always say the California guys are babied and don't want to leave the state, but that wasn't the case for me. Also what helps is that one of my sisters, Jasmine, is at Tennessee State University on a softball scholarship, so I'm literally 10 minutes down the road from her.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How much have you thought of the draft? Speaking with guys some say that they think about it all the time, others say that they are not thinking about it at all. Where do you stand in that spectrum?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: I'm not going to lie – I think about it just about every day. It's a hard process. Right now I'm excited about being committed to Vanderbilt, but if the situation is right for my family and me, and everything goes right and I feel comfortable signing, then I'll sign. However, if it's not I'm not going to be mad or upset because I'm going to be attending a great university and playing in one of the best conferences in college baseball, for one of the best teams in the country. So when I think about it now I view it as a win-win situation. If I get drafted and sign I get my career started early – that's fine. If not, I get to go to school for three years, develop, mature, get bigger and stronger, and live the college life experience which is something I want to do. So I think about the draft, but I also think about going to school, and I'm ready for either one.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When you do allow yourself to have that dream of playing professional baseball, what is the image you get in your mind?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: Just doing something I love for a living, that's all I've ever wanted to do. I grew up in a Major League clubhouse all my life seeing my dad playing Major League Baseball. He played for 18 years and had a very good career, and I saw the lifestyle he was able to provide for us by hitting a baseball and playing a kid's game. So it's something I've wanted to do since I was little, and he paved the way for me by teaching me the things I needed to do. He rides me all the time to be the best that I can be and get the most out of my ability, and I try to live up to that every day now. For me, turning 18 today, I'm realizing that there's a chance that in four, five, or six years I could be playing Major League baseball, with and against players I idolize now.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Wait a second, today is your birthday?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: Yeah, I turn 18 today!

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Wow, happy birthday! I didn't mean to take up your time on your birthday!

Shawon Dunston, Jr: Thank you, and it's no problem!

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So, jokingly, does it suck having a dad that went 1-1? Does he ever give you the business about the best anyone could ever hope to do is tie him?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: Oh, we always joke about that. He likes to point out that "Bryce Harper went 1-1, I went 1-1, Griffey, Jr. went 1-1, A-Rod went 1-1," [laughs] so there's a little fun competition there with him having gone 1-1, but he always tells me that I can't control the draft. I just have to play my game and do what's best for me. There's definitely some pressure to live up to having a dad that went 1-1, but it doesn't really get to me because that was him, and I'm Shawon, Jr.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Every year I talk to a few guys who have MLB bloodlines, and I find that there are a lot of positives, but also pressures that people aren't aware of. What are the best and worst things about being the son of a guy who had a long and successful MLB career?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: The best thing about having a dad that played Major League baseball is having knowledge from him and meeting all the Major League players. With my dad as a Special Assistant with the Giants now I get to go up there sometimes when I'm not busy and meet guys like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Jose Reyes a few years ago, so it's an honor to get to speak with those guys that I watch on television. The worst thing is people having a perception that I get things handed to me, and that's not true at all, because my dad is hard on me 24/7. He's strict and no-nonsense – the old-school type that doesn't baby me like I've seen parents do with other kids. He's just straight to the point, do it his way or no way. So that perception is one of the worst things, but in the end I deal with it and it just makes me stronger.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How many teams have you heard from?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: Probably about 10-12 teams.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: And are the Yankees one of them?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: Yeah, I got a questionnaire from them and will be speaking with my area scout, Tim McIntosh later on in the year.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How would you describe yourself as a hitter?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: I have quick hands. I think I have some of the quickest hands out here in our class – I'll hit anyone's fastball, whether you're throwing 90, 95, 96 MPH, I'll hit your fastball inside, that's my money pitch right there. Sometimes I get pull happy, but I'm mainly a linedrive hitter to the gaps. I've been focusing a bit this year on hitting the ball away with more authority so I can use both gaps well. I think of myself as a power hitter, and I know I'm not all there yet physically but I swing like I'm a power hitter because I don't want to get cheated. I swing hard and I don't care if people laugh – when I'm up there I'm taking a cut like I'm 6'3", 210 lbs. That type of swing is violent and that's the result I want to produce at the plate, but I still have to know my strikezone, get a good pitch to hit, and just hammer it.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How did it come about that you bat left and throw right?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: I'm naturally lefthanded – I actually threw lefthanded until I was eight years old, but I couldn't catch the ball with the glove on my right hand so my dad switched me up so I could catch the ball with my left hand. At first I couldn't throw with my right hand at all – I threw like a girl [laughs], but I worked on it and it took some time, and by my sophomore year I had a pretty good arm. At first I couldn't even throw, but it's been the best thing my dad did for me, making that switch to me throwing righty because I have a pretty strong arm today.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You have been clocked up to what, the mid to upper 80s?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: Yeah, I'm up to high 80s, low 90s now. I think I clocked 88 MPH at Perfect Game Nationals this summer.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Can you still throw lefty?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: [laughs] No, not at all.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is your approach at the plate?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: I have an approach at the plate, but in talking with other hitters I've found that you can't make it too complicated. I like to keep it simple: see ball, hit ball. I'll definitely take my walks though, because I have speed. I'll also bunt, too, and I'm not great at it yet, but I'm good at the drag bunt, so that's a part of my game, too.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What do you think is your best attribute as a hitter?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: My quick hands, for sure. My dad has thrown hard BP to me since I was little, and he's known for having one of the strongest shortstop arms in history. That helped develop my hands and anyone who threw hard after that didn't scare me. I got confidence in my hands from that and anyone who threw hard just made me think "bring it – if you want to throw hard and challenge me, then I'm going to make you pay for it."

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Where will you be hitting in the lineup this year?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: I probably bat third for my high school team.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You talked about speed a little earlier. Can you expand a bit on the role it plays in your game?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: I have plus speed; I run a 6.5 so I have good range and can go get it in the outfield. Hitting-wise I can turn a single into a double, a double into a triple, and even put bunts down. On the basepaths I want to wreak havoc, steal second, steal third, and be aggressive. My speed plays a pretty significant role for me.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: As a centerfielder, how much pride do you take in your defense?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: I focus just as much on my defense as I do on my offense, and I take a lot of pride in being a centerfielder. People think I'm a rightfielder because of my arm, but I'm a natural centerfielder and I like playing the position. If I'm 0-fer at the plate and a guy hits a ball in the gap I want to get to that ball and make him mad, make him feel the way I'm feeling.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How much outward emotion do you show on the field?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: I think I play calm and try not to be too rowdy, but then at times I'll be rowdy and talk. I try to talk in a good way and stay positive, but I'm a guy that plays hard and likes his teammates.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Your dad was born in New York, made his name as a Cub in Chicago, and is now working for the San Francisco Giants. Who did you end up rooting for?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: I was a Giants fan, being from the Bay Area. Barry Bonds was one of the best players that has ever played, so it was nice to get to see him in person, and getting to know him personally was even better. Now I'd say my favorite team was the Rays until they dismantled their team, because my favorite player is BJ Upton. I like Dexter Fowler and Ryan Braun, too, but I like the Rays as a team because their style was power and speed.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Braun is a very different type of hitter than Upton and Fowler, so what is it about him that you like so much?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: It's his confidence. People say he's cocky, but you can just tell he's really confident in his game. He acts nasty, but I actually like it. He's a ballplayer that can hit 30 homeruns, and he's not afraid when he hits one to just walk and stare at you around the bases, and I like that about him. Attitude-wise I like him.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: If you could steal one skill from anyone else in your draft class, whose would it be, and why?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: Hmm, maybe to swing hard like Jake Cave. He swings out of his mind every time, 110% effort, and that's pretty impressive. When he connects it goes. So I guess I'd want to take his swinging habits.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who is the toughest pitcher you've faced at any point so far?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: There are four of them. Henry Owens from down in Los Angeles, Mike Kelly from Florida, Tyler Beede who's going to Vandy with me, and Jose Fernandez. Henry was a lefty, tall guy, deceptive, and not too hard, but sneaky fast. Mike Kelly I faced in the Aflac game and he was at 94 MPH with a hammer and a changeup I haven't seen before. Tyler is good now, and I see him making progress to becoming even better. Jose Fernandez is probably the hardest I've ever seen. I lined out to centerfield in the Aflac game off him, but he throws really hard and I was impressed with that.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What are you hoping for this upcoming season, both for your team, and then for you as an individual?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: As a team want to win our league – WCL, and then hopefully we win our section title. Personally my goals are to just take things one game at a time, don't worry about all the scouts watching in the stands, play my game and let everything else take care of itself.

Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Being 18 years old now, how do you deal with the pressure that comes along with these two amazing opportunities you have in front of you? How do you balance that pressure with just trying to be a normal high school teenager…when you clearly don't have a normal teenager's options?

Shawon Dunston, Jr: It's very hard. My parents tell me all the time that I'm not a normal teen because of the opportunities that I have, like you said. It's definitely not normal for an 18 year old kid to be focused on the opportunity to eventually play professional baseball. I just try to have fun and keep myself surrounded with good people – my parents have always said "hang out with people who have more to lose than you do," and I think that's totally true. Like I said earlier, my parents are very strict, they're no-nonsense people. My dad said I can have all the fun I want when I'm out of the house, but as long as I'm in his house, under his roof, I'm following his rules. I'm pretty focused on my goals, and my dad helps keep me that way. He says "you told me when you were younger what you wanted to do with baseball, and I told you it wasn't going to be easy." The thing I'll always remember him saying is "you'll hate me know, but you'll love me later, and you'll love me later once you make."

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