This past season was a big step forward for the New York Mets’ minor league system, both on offense and pitching. One of the bright spots and part of the Mets minor league pitching rejuvenation was 2016 first rounder, RHP Justin Dunn.
Justin had a breakthrough season to the magnitude of knocking on the door to the major leagues. He went 8-8 with a 3.59 ERA between High-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton.
Dunn was also awarded the Sterling Award as Mets Minor League Pitcher of The Year for his superb season. Justin, a native of New York, attended Boston College. I had the privilege to spend a few minutes on the phone with him, and here’s what he had to say. Enjoy.
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MMO: Hi Justin, thank you so much for being available for the interview.
Dunn: No problem, thanks for having me.
MMO: How’s the offseason so far? What plans do you have for the remainder?
Dunn: It’s been good. I took the first couple of months off, hung out with family and visited my girlfriend and other friends in Boston, but it’s time to start getting ready for spring, going back to the gym and starting to get in the itch again.
MMO: This spring can be a very important one because it can be the last one you start as a minor leaguer.
Dunn: Yes we’ll see. That would be pretty cool.
MMO: So you were drafted No. 19 overall in the 2016 MLB Draft. Where were you, who were you with, how did you find out, and how did you celebrate that moment?
Dunn: Alright, so we were playing in a Super Regional in Miami with Boston College, and I was at the Duffy Sports Bar and Grill in South Beach with all of my college teammates, I found out with all the Mets fans when my name was called on the board, I celebrated by jumping out of my chair, in the excitement, me and my teammates broke a bunch of glasses and bottles. There is a video of it rolling around somewhere. I was also with my family and it was a really cool moment.
MMO: That’s gotta be pretty cool!
Dunn: Yes. It was very special.
MMO: Who was the first Mets player or representative that reached out to you?
Dunn: The first Mets representative was Mike Pesce who was my area scout, and then Tommy Tanous and the next day it was David Wright which was another surreal moment.
MMO: I heard you went to see his last game. I wanted to go but was unable to.
Dunn: Yes it was hard to get to.
MMO: He is a special man. Who were your idols growing up?
Dunn: I had a few. Growing up in New York, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jose Reyes because I have a different connection with him through a family friend and he was the first big leaguer I got to meet on a personal level. He has always been one of my favorite players to watch.
MMO: Jose is a very funny guy from what I’ve seen and heard.
Dunn: Yes he’s the man.
MMO: And you can’t get much better than Mariano.
Dunn: Yes I try to emulate his composure.
MMO: Derek Jeter is also a great player, a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Dunn: Yes growing up as a New Yorker it’s hard not to root for those guys.
MMO: Yup. What sports did you play as a kid?
Dunn: I played a little bit of everything. Soccer, basketball, football, baseball, but I was focused on baseball. I was always at the batting cage with my Dad at night after I did my homework. If there was a baseball game I was going there, not other sports.
MMO: What position did you play as a high schooler?
Dunn: Shortstop, pitcher but honestly anywhere in the infield and I pitched.
MMO: Were you a right-handed batter or a left-handed batter?
Dunn: My friends actually made fun of me because I hit switch, but I did that in my senior year and then I didn’t really try it in college and I only hit right because they were throwing harder so I took lefty away.
MMO: So maybe you will be a good hitting pitcher when you come up.
MMO: Yup. There has been a video of you and Trevor Hoffman talking the mechanics of the changeup. How special was it to meet a Hall-of-Famer like Trevor and how vital can those tips be for you in the future?
Dunn: Getting a chance to meet Trevor was amazing. It wasn’t planned, I was just blessed to meet a Hall-of-Famer.
I was down in Jupiter, Florida coaching for Perfect Game, and I saw him with my friend Smokey, we were walking by him and I said, that’s Trevor Hoffman and I would love to talk to him so Smokey said go talk to him so I said back, “if I had a baseball I would probably go ask him about his changeup but I don’t have one so let’s leave him alone because he looks like he is in a conversation.”
Next thing you know, my buddy comes up with a baseball and he says, “here you go, go ask him.” I usually don’t get nervous easily but when I got a chance to talk to a Hall-of-Famer I got a little nervous. I walked passed him again and finally worked up the courage to go talk to him. He was a great guy. He was very open, very open to talk about the changeup and show his grip.
I actually didn’t know that someone was videoing it till afterwards, which actually was great so I could go back and listen to what he told me and make sure I didn’t miss anything. But to get a chance to learn the pitch that everyone says is the next step of my development from who arguably had the best changeup in baseball, you talk about Mariano being a closer with one pitch, Mariano the cutter and Trevor the changeup so to be able to learn from him was pretty special.
MMO: When Jacob deGrom was in the minors in 2013, he crossed paths with Johan Santana who also has a great changeup, and taught deGrom the pitch. Originally, his career trajectory was and end of the rotation starter or middle reliever and then it changed to high-end starter and everything else is history, so I’m hoping the same with you.
Dunn: Yes we are working on it. It’s the main goal this offseason.
MMO: In that same video, Trevor also mentioned that you are knocking on the door from AA. That doesn’t happen very often and is special. Has that been on your mind?
Dunn: It’s cool to hear things like that, but I can’t go out and play like that because at the end of the day that’s out of my control. I just have to go play hard every day and wait for that call from the Mets. When God says it’s time to fulfill my dream then it’s time, but until then I can’t think about it any other way. I just have to go out and develop and show them that I’m ready, so that phone call becomes a little easier for them. But it’s definitely cool to hear things like that.
MMO: So again on pitching, you had a much better season in 2018 than in 2017. What adjustments did you make?
Dunn: Everyone has been asking what changes I’ve made. I’ll tell you something. Nothing has changed. I’m the same guy, I throw the same pitches, four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, changeup, curveball. I just got back to being myself, to being an athlete, and not trying to be robotic on the mound. In 2017, it was only my second year starting and I was trying to take bits and pieces of what everyone was telling me and put it into my own game, and make everybody happy, and while doing that I lost sight of who I was. So this offseason I went back to those same changes that they were trying to make, and I learned to adapt to them to who I was and who I am as a player.
I got a better understanding of my body and understanding the positions I need to be in as a pitcher, and from there, I am able to go back to myself when I’m on the mound, so my command is enhanced. Pitch to pitch it doesn’t take me four or five pitches to snap back in like 2017 and now it takes me two and maybe even one pitch to snap back in so as long as I can stay in my body and have control of my body I should have some pretty good success.
MMO: All Mets fans are praying that we have a Cy Young coming up!
Dunn: Me too! Your mouth to God’s ears man!
MMO: What sports teams from New York did you go for growing up? Mets or Yankees?
Dunn: I grew up a Yankee fan, it was hard for me not too because my Dad, his Dad, and my uncle were die-hards so I didn’t really have a choice. I will say that I did go to more Mets games than Yankee games growing up. At a certain age, I stopped being a fan of a team and just became a baseball fan once I realized that playing professionally was an option.
MMO: If you could give advice and tips to young players hoping to play professionally, what tips and advice did you give them?
Dunn: I was always the little guy and the guy who was doubted. Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do. If you put your mind to something, you can achieve anything, especially in this game. The mental part means more than the physical part so if you believe in yourself and you go out and can see yourself playing at this stage then you can do it. Also just get reps and be an athlete the more you play the better you will be. That’s the biggest thing for me.
MMO: What are your thoughts on analytics and sabermetrics?
Dunn: I think there needs to be a happy medium. I’m old school in the sense that if you can get people out, you can get people out. It does give you an edge and I do look at it because it helps in regards to matchups and my pitch sequencing, and at the end of the day I’m going to read the reports and trust what I see because my eyes usually tell me what to do. But I think it puts people in the chance to succeed so there needs to be a happy medium of go out and play, and have a good understanding.
MMO: I don’t think that Dave Roberts should have sat Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, and Joc Pederson who are great players and because analytics show that lefties are bad off this pitcher, they get benched. They are in this league because they are good players.
Dunn: That’s the tough part about being a manager, at the end of the day he is the one calling those shots. It’s easy to second-guess the calls but when you are in the spot and the numbers speak for themselves you are going to probably go with the numbers. I agree.
MMO: Talking about Peter Alonso, I have an article coming out basically to put his season into context alongside major leaguers. He is so good.
Dunn: I’m going to tell you one thing about Peter Alonso. Peter Alonso is one of the most pure and talented hitters I’ve ever played with in my life. That man is blessed to hit baseballs. He is going to hit no matter where he goes. You have to be able to ride with the downs, because this game is about learning and failure, so he is going to fail, BUT at some point when he figures it out, that boy is special and he knows how to hit and he is going to hit wherever he goes I’ll promise you that.
MMO: He is so special. I saw a scouting report that gave him a 70-grade raw power and regular power at 65-grade. You don’t get that every day.
Dunn: I’m telling you, man, he’s special god gave him the ability to hit and that his gift.
MMO: I can’t wait for him to come up!
Dunn: Me neither. That’s my buddy, that’s one of my best friends.
MMO: Thank you so much for the interview Justin!
Dunn: No problem thanks for having me!
Be sure to follow Justin on Twitter: @Dunn_Deal19.