While Dane Dunning was on the University of Florida baseball team his status as a first-round talent was overshadowed by several other heralded pitchers. When he was included in the Adam Eaton deal with the Nationals he was known as “the other guy.” But 2017 was Dunning’s season and he punctuated his arrival with a tremendous season.
Dunning’s final two starts capped an outstanding campaign at two class-A affiliates with 13 innings pitched, 19 strikeouts and only two walks. He closed the season with a 2.94 earned run average over 144 innings pitched. For his latest efforts Dunning was named to the MLB Pipeline Team of the Week for his performances.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 4, 2017
After silencing South Atlantic League batters over four starts it was obvious that Dunning was ready for a promotion. While in Kannapolis he posted a 0.35 ERA and fanned 33 over 26 innings pitched. Even more impressive was his ability to keep the ball in the zone and avoid walks, only allowing a pair of free passes over 26 innings.
Yet, there were some growing pains at High-A, Winston-Salem. Dunning shared a few observations with Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago near the end of the season on the difference between A-ball and High-A.
“The farther you go up the more hitters are able to see pitches,” said Dunning. “Coming up here, there’s a couple more hitters in each lineup that can see the ball better. …you add a couple more [batters] where you’ve got to bear down on each person.”
Midseason promotions can be tricky sometimes and players respond differently to roster shifts. Dunning’s ability to observe and adjust is a valuable asset he has honed his first full season of professional baseball.
Dunning spent the majority of the season in Winston-Salem where he finished with a 3.51 ERA, 135 strikeouts and only 36 walks spread over 118 innings. He posted an astounding 4.42 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2017 and ranked fourth among Carolina League pitchers in strikeouts. This is all very impressive considering Dunning lacks the stifling repertoire most strikeout-pitchers flash and underscores his maturity as a pitcher.
He fought through a tough stretch in July that followed him into August but Dunning recovered well and closed the season with two emphatic outings. After a frightful start on Aug. 23 where he lasted three innings and allowed six earned runs, Dunning recovered with two quality starts and 19 strikeouts.
Putting an exclamation point on the season was precisely the way Dunning wanted to punctuate his debut in the White Sox farm system.
“I feel extremely good,” said Dunning. “The last couple of outings my velo has been up and I feel like I’ve been throwing the ball well.”
Dunning appears poised to leap to Double-A in 2018 but there is one concern White Sox brass will monitor closely. The right-hander threw a total of 33 2/3 innings in his debut in the Washington Nationals organization in 2016 after posting 78 2/3 innings with Florida. He dusted his combined total of 112 1/3 in 2016 with 144 innings this season.
Escalated innings from year to year is always supervised by coaching staffs, but too much too soon can wreak havoc on tender shoulder joints.