From the Minor League Ball mailbag:
“You seemed down on Justin Dunn pre-season but he had a good year. What is your take now and can he remain a starter?”——Justin K. in Nevada
Let’s take a look.
Quick review, first. Justin Dunn was the New York Mets first round pick in 2016 from Boston College. His 2017 season was rather disappointing and I had Dunn ranked as Number 20 in the Mets system pre-season with this comment:
20) Justin Dunn, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, first round pick in 2016 from Boston College; very disappointing 2017 season, 5.00 ERA in 95 innings in High-A, 75/48 K/BB in High-A, 100 hits; the numbers were obviously horrid but scouting reports remain positive enough for him to rate a C+; 92-96 fastball, slider, curve, and change-up all flash plus but he had a lot of problems with inning-to-inning consistency in the starting role; could improve rapidly if moved to bullpen; ETA 2021; QUESTION MARK: disparity between stats and scouting.
2018 was much better than 2017: he opened with a 2.36 ERA in 46 innings in High-A, 51/15 K/BB, then was promoted to Double-A and put up a 4.22 ERA in 90 innings, 105/37 K/BB. The key takeaway: a large increase in his strikeout rate this season (156 whiffs in 136 innings), combined with fewer walks. All the trend lines are positive.
He still has the impressive fastball and his control was better in general but the big difference was sharper secondaries. Baseball America notes this; they quote Mets exec J.P. Ricciardi on Dunn: “He still needs to be finished off a little bit, but he has got all the fastball you need and it’s got life. . .The slider is real good, a great changeup and is a real good athlete. . .He is heading in the right direction.”
Now, oftentimes a team will talk up such improvements without any real underlying change in the performance data, but in Dunn’s case it holds up objectively. There’s enough here to kick his grade up a notch to B- and I am more confident that he can remain a starter. His transition to Triple-A in 2019 will be illuminating.