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Prospect Retrospective and Career Profile: Adam Dunn

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Although he eventually became the epitome of the "three true outcome" slugger, Adam Dunn showed a broad-base skill and tool set as a prospect during his days in the Cincinnati Reds system.

Adam Dunn, 2003
Adam Dunn, 2003
Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

Major League veteran outfielder Adam Dunn announced his retirement a few days ago. Let's take a look back at his career with Prospect Retrospective.

Adam Dunn was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the second round of the 1998 draft, out of high school in New Caney, Texas. He was considered a possible first round talent due to his excellent power potential and good speed, but a football scholarship to Texas scared some teams away. The Reds signed him and agreed to let him play football, but Dunn dropped the gridiron quickly and turned to baseball full-time.

Dunn hit .288/.404/.424 in 34 games for Billings in the Pioneer League. I did not give grades to new draftees back then, but would probably give a similar player a Grade B or maybe a high-ceiling B- nowadays. He was toolsy, fast and strong, but was considered a bit raw with his swing when drafted. He did, however, show some feel for the strike zone immediately, with a sound 22/23 BB/K ratio in his first 125 professional at-bats.

Moved up to Class A Rockford in the Midwest League in 1999, Dunn hit .307/.409/.476 with 11 homers, 46 walks, 64 strikeouts, and 21 steals in 313 at-bats. His OPS (+20 percent) and SEC (+40 percent) marks were very strong, and I gave him a Grade B+ in the '00 book. He was definitely more polished than expected with the bat, and his power/speed combination was highly intriguing. Indeed, he hadn't fully tapped his home run power yet and more growth was certainly possible.

Dunn spent 2000 with Dayton in the Midwest League since the Reds were without an advanced A-ball affiliate. He hit .281/.438/.469 in 122 games, with 100 walks, 101 strikeouts in 420 at-bats, 16 homers, and 24 steals. I left him a Grade B+ in the '01 book, noting that the grade was "if anything, too conservative" and saying that he looked like a Seven Skill player. The main problem analytically was that he was repeating Low-A, although that was due to organizational circumstances and wasn't his fault.

Dunn began '01 in Double-A, hitting .343/.449/.664 in 39 games, with 12 homers. Promoted to Triple-A, he hit .329/.441/.676 with 20 homers in just 55 games. Moved to the majors, he hit .262/.371/.578 in 66 games, with 19 homers, emerging at age 21 as one of the premier young power hitters in the game. He got too much experience to be counted as a prospect entering 2002, but would certainly have rated as a Grade A.

Dunn hit .249/.400/.454 with 26 homers, 128 walks, and 170 strikeouts in 535 at-bats for the Reds in 2002. He also stole 19 bases, but he quickly lost his speed on the bases as he aged. The power continued to increase however: he eventually hit 40 or more homers four years in a row and five times in his career overall.

Instead of becoming a true Five Tool/Seven Skill player, he became a "three true outcome" generator, with his combination of homers, walks, and strikeouts. His defense, which was decent enough earlier in his career, deteriorated quickly along with his speed, cutting into his WAR value and eventually forcing a move to first base and designated hitter. Although always a consistent source of home run power, he had problems sustaining an acceptable batting average late in his career, which his ability to draw walks only partially masked.

Overall, Dunn played 2001 major league games for the Reds, Diamondbacks, Nationals, White Sox, and Athletics, hitting .237/.364/.490 with 462 homers, 1317 walks, and 2379 strikeouts in 6883 at-bats, wRC+ 123. His career Fangraphs WAR was 22.7, his peak seasonal WAR value being 4.9 in 2004 at age 24 on a .266/.388/.569, 46-homer line.

Despite his limitations, Dunn's career was successful, if not quite as good as was initially hoped. In the minors, he was more of a complete player than he was in the majors, but he emphasized power development at the expense of other factors.

Dunn's list of historical comparables by Sim Score: Dave Kingman, Jose Canseco, Jack Clark, Harmon Killebrew, Jim Thome, Andruw Jones (Sim Score doesn't account for the massive difference in defensive value), Rocky Colavito, Greg Vaughn, Gil Hodges, Norm Cash, Boog Powell. Among players with a similar amount of playing time, Dunn's career 22.7 WAR ranks in the area of Tom Brunansky (23.3 WAR), Tommy Harper (22.8), Danny Tartabull (22.6), and Jeff Conine (22.0).

The WAR neighborhood comps were decent players, but less impressive than the Sim Score names which include some borderline Hall of Fame types. WAR incorporates defensive value and more effectively accounts for extreme offensive contexts such as MLB in the 2000s. which lowers Dunn's comps in comparison to Sim Score.