The New York Mets added yet another high upside pitcher to their system last year, drafting and signing Boston College right-hander Justin Dunn in the first round of the MLB Draft (19th overall).
The Freeport native grew up just thirty minutes from Shea Stadium and Citi Field, attending many games as a youth. Dunn, 21, has the chance to one day join LHP Steven Matz as being able to pitch in one’s back yard, so to speak, as Matz grew up about an hour from where he makes his living in Queens, born and raised in Stony Brook, New York.
Dunn is an intriguing prospect, having pitched both out of BC’s pen and in the starting rotation throughout his three seasons there, posting a combined record of 9-7, with a 3.67 ERA in 45 games, 15 of those starts. Dunn had his most successful season as a junior in 2016, where he posted a 2.06 ERA (4th in BC’s history for single-season records), and had career bests in WHIP (1.07), K/9 (9.87), IP (65.2), and games started (8).
Upon signing with the Mets on June 21, the team assigned the hard throwing righty to the Short-Season A Brooklyn Cyclones, where he appeared in 11 games (eight starts) posting a minuscule 1.50 ERA over 30 innings. Dunn held opponents to a .227 average, and struck out 10.5 batters per nine.
The hype is certainly warranted for Justin Dunn, MMO’s sixth best prospect for 2017, as he features a mid-nineties fastball that touches 97, a slider, curve and changeup. The Mets limited his innings in 2016, as he began tossing just two innings for the Cyclones before transitioning to the starting rotation, where he was capped at three innings of work.
Dunn also ranked twice in this offseason’s Top 100 prospect rankings with his highest being #84 by Keith Law.
I had the privilege of speaking to Dunn earlier in the week, where we discussed the Draft, playing close to home, and an early memory involving a dunk tank.
MMO – Hey Justin, thanks for taking some time to speak with me today. What was Draft night like for you? Many Mets fans have seen the video of you with your Boston College teammates celebrating at a sports bar when you heard the news, can you talk a bit about that night and the emotions you felt?
Justin – That night was awesome. We were down in Miami playing in a super regional for the first time in school history. Going down there for that weekend we knew it was Draft day, we knew I had a chance to go in the first-round. But we also knew we were doing something that had never been done in school history so there was a lot of different emotions going on. We had just finished up practice that night and coach decided to have a team dinner.
We went over to Duffy’s Sports Bar in Miami. We sat down after a long night. I kept waiting to hear my name called, pick after pick not hearing it and then to come down to 18 and 19 and see the Mets and the Yankees right there (Yankees had the 18th pick) that’s two New York teams. Then to see that the Mets were the team that drafted me was honestly a dream come true because being a pitcher you can’t beat this organization.
Growing up in Long Island, I’ve been to more Mets games than I can count, probably more than my own games. I was very familiar with the Mets and I love being home in New York, so that video was raw emotion of how excited I was to become a Met and start my career.
MMO – Did you have any inclination that the Mets had interest in you prior to the Draft?
Justin – No that’s what made it even cooler, that video was raw. I saw my name on the screen when all the Mets fans did and I jumped up in pure excitement.
It’s a dream come true to have the potential to be playing thirty minutes from home to where my parents hop on the Cross Island and head straight into Queens.
MMO – The Dodgers drafted you in 2013 in the 37th round. Did going through the draft process back then make it any easier for you last year?
Justin – Yeah for sure. I mean, at that point in my career I was in a little bit different place. I was a buck fifty, five-foot-ten, and I wasn’t in a situation to where I was ready to go play with grown men that were 21-22 years-old like I am now.
Going into the Draft I knew I needed to mature and I was most likely going to college unless someone came with an offer that I couldn’t refuse. For that day it was just more of a learning (process), and getting used to the experience because I knew at some point in my college career I would go through it again.
It was more learning what interest is and the process itself for Draft day and how to handle the punches and things like that, and it was just an honor that the Dodgers even called my name because they didn’t have to.
MMO – Speaking of your time at college, can you talk a little bit about your experience attending Boston College, and how it prepared you for where you are now in your professional career?
Justin – If it wasn’t for BC I wouldn’t be where I am today. We had some great coaches come in. Coach Foster came in my sophomore year, and my freshman year I had Coach Friedholm as pitching coaches so I was fortunate enough to have two outstanding pitching coaches during my college career. And Coach Gambino, our head coach, he helped shape me into the man I am today. The morals and values that I have and the way I carry myself as a person is due a lot to him and my parents.
On the field wise, my game kind of went to the next level when Coach Foster came in and broke down the mental side of the game for me. I’m a very mental player, I like to know my hitters well and have a good, lengthy scouting report going into the game. That was something he taught me how to do: how to read a swing in the middle of an at-bat, how to sit down the night before and analyze a lineup and understand how to attack a lineup the first time through, and how to be able to save a pitch for the second and third time through the order. It helped me go through all of my outings when I became a starter because I understood what he was doing, calling a game, and it made my job as well as his job a little bit easier.
MMO – I read a report in the New York Daily News last year, where your dad recollects that you two went into an arcade and he couldn’t hit the dunk tank target. However, you hit the target three times in a row at a young age. Is that true?
Justin – (Laughs) One hundred percent true. We were at Dave & Buster’s and I think I was six-years-old. He (his dad) always likes to think that I throw the way I do because of him, so he was like, “All right, come here and watch this, I’m going to dunk this lady.”
So I’m just sitting there at six-years-old watching him, and he goes 0-for-3. So I was like, ‘Let me try.’ And he said, “No, you’re not going to be able to do it.” I just told him let me try. He paid the three dollars or whatever it was for three balls, and there was like a clown or somebody, or some dude sitting in the tank, and I think he called me ‘Little Bow Wow’ or something like that. Just making fun of me, and the first ball I threw I squared it up, just knocked him straight down, and he got up and said, “You can’t do it again.”
Boom! Straight down (for the second time).
Then he kind of got quiet, and there was a big crowd starting to circle because everybody was going nuts because I was this little kid dunking this clown that nobody else was able to dunk two times in a row and I did it again. So that was pretty funny, and then we ended up going to a carnival again a few years later and the same thing, and I dunked them like three-four times in a row.
MMO – Was that your earliest baseball memory?
Justin – Honestly, my earliest memory was watching my dad play. He never played at a high level, but that was his passion. Going to watch his games, I think I was five or six, he would go play in a men’s league, and he’d bring me up and I’d be the bat boy for the team. They would take me out there and let me catch ground balls, take some swings off the tee, stuff like that.
Just seeing the fun he had, it was something we could share together. I knew it was something I wanted to do from a very young age.
MMO – Growing up on Long Island, who were some of your favorite players to watch, and do you have any that you style your game after today?
And then now, I don’t really model myself after a single person to be honest, because at the level I’m at now I’m not a fan anymore. So I just like to watch good baseball. I try to take bits and pieces from everybody because everyone at that level is where I want to be, so they all do something that I don’t know how to do yet.
I try to learn from them and I just sit back and watch the game and look at things that I’m not doing that they’re doing that helps them get hitters out at that level, because it takes a lot of talent to do that against the best hitters in the world.
MMO – Growing up, did you pitch at an early age? What other positions did you play?
Justin – No, I was small like I said, so I didn’t always throw very hard. I threw decent speed for how old I was, but it wasn’t enough for teams to be like you’re just a pitcher and going to come in and pitch for us. I was actually a middle infielder growing up. And our college coach kind of recruited me that way and said you’re going to be a middle infielder.
Coach Gambino (BC head coach) came to a game, and I’ll never forget it, they brought me into pitch, I forget why, and he saw me warming up on the side and he’s like, “Drop your arm down a little bit, go at three-quarters, throw like your throwing from shortstop, don’t throw over the top.”
I went into that game and that was the first time I hit 90 at like 16-17 years-old and from then on he was like, all right, I think he’s a pitcher. If you were to ask me when I was younger I thought I was going to be a shortstop. I always loved pitching, but I would’ve said I’m a better defensive player than I am pitcher.
MMO – Were you a decent hitter growing up?
Justin – No I was pretty bad. I’ll mess with people and tell them I was good. I mean, I could get the job done, but definitely wasn’t the best though.
MMO – Once you were drafted and signed by the Mets, you started your career in Brooklyn. Tell me about that experience and what it was like pitching so close to home and in front of friends and family.
Justin – Yeah I mean you said it, being able to start my professional career 45 minutes from my house to where I had family and friends coming to see me play that haven’t seen my play since I was 12-years-old. To have close to 15-20 people at every game that I was pitching in was awesome. To come out and see familiar faces, to see my mom, see my dad, see my brother, and then to also have a great group of guys that we had in Brooklyn, it made my first year awesome.
I thought it was a great learning experience for me as a player, I learned a lot about pro ball, (I) have a lot more to learn, but I felt like it was a pretty good grasp for my first season and I was pretty happy with it.
MMO – Can you give me a quick scouting report on yourself for fans that might be new to you? What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?
Justin – Me as a pitcher, I like to consider myself a pitcher with power stuff, where I’m not just going to throw 100 percent fastballs and try to throw it by you. I’m still a pitcher where I have three other pitches that I can come at you with, and I understand how to use all four of them.
My weakness I would say is my changeup right now. It’s something that we started to develop in college and contributed a lot to my success at school. It was just another pitch for me to help get lefties and righties out, keep people off my fastball and make my fastball that much more effective. So the development of that and tightening up my slider a little bit and understanding when to use it, when not to use it, when to make it tight when I want to spin it for a strike. Just things like that, the ins and outs of pitching that I didn’t really know before. But I would say I’m definitely a hard thrower who understands how to pitch.
MMO – You pitched out of the pen and started in college, do you have a preference when it comes to starting or relieving?
Justin – A lot of people ask me that. No, I love to pitch. I just love being on the field and that was one of the things that held me back from loving pitching so much when I was younger because I couldn’t pitch every day, but I could play infield everyday and I just loved being on the field. So for me, it’s wherever you need me on the field and wherever I’m going to get a chance to play and do what I love, I’m fine with it.
In college, Coach said you should be a starter but we need you in the back end of the pen to close some games for us in the beginning of the season and I said that’s fine. Whatever’s going to help us win games is what I’m happy with because at the end of the day it’s all about winning, so I don’t have a preference at all. Whatever the Mets see me as is what they see me as and I can’t control that and I just want to help (them) win, so whatever it takes to do that, I’ll do.
MMO – What’s the offseason been like for you? What’s a normal training day for you?
Justin – So I came down to Florida for this offseason, I’ve been working out at Cressey Performance in Jupiter. I’ve been working out with Eric (trainer) since I was a freshman in college, he was the start of me working out, and start putting some velocity on my fastball and my body thawing out a little bit. So I came down here with one of my teammates from college, Mike King, and we’ve been working out six days a week.
We throw in the mornings, throwing pens – I threw my sixth pen yesterday (Monday Feb 13), but it’s been going well. I’ve put on about ten-fifteen pounds this offseason, which is always nice, so I mean I’m happy with it and I’m excited to see how it translates into the spring.
MMO – Now every year there’s always the top prospects lists that come out from Keith Law, Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, etc. You’ve made a lot of these lists this year, which must be awesome to see considering you’ve only thrown 30 professional innings. Do you pay close attention to these lists, and what does it mean to you when you see your name listed among the game’s best prospects?
Justin – I mean, it’s awesome. I try not to look into it honestly because there’s a lot of other things that go into the decision making in the front office that aren’t about those lists. So at the end of the day my focus is just going out there and performing and trying to put up some numbers because if you put up numbers then it’s hard to ignore you. The lists are great honors and I’m very appreciative to be on those lists with the great talents in minor league baseball and be mentioned with some of them. But I try not to let them get to my head too much and stay grounded and just keep working hard.
MMO – Thanks for taking the time out to speak to me today, Justin. Best of luck advancing through the Mets system.
Justin – No problem, thanks for reaching out.
Follow Justin Dunn on Twitter, @Dunn_Deal19