Dunston Jr. ready to emerge from dad's shadow
Cubs' 2011 Draft pick wrapping up stint in instructional league
MESA, Ariz. -- He doesn't play shortstop, nor does he want to wear his dad's No. 12. No need to dust off the Shawon-O-Meter. He throws right-handed but bats left, while his father was a right-handed hitter. He is fast, and when Shawon Dunston Jr. runs, that's when you're reminded of how his dad always hustled on the basepaths when he played for the Cubs.
Dunston Jr. has been compared to his father since he first started playing baseball.
"It's always tough," he said last week at the Cubs' Fitch Park complex during a break in the instructional league. "You're always going to hear it, like, 'Do you have your dad's arm?' You hear it everywhere you go. I just say, 'See me play and you'll see for yourself.'"
He'll be hearing the comparisons a lot. In 1982, the Cubs selected Shawon Dunston Sr. as the first pick overall in the Draft, and he played 12 seasons with the team. When drafted, he received a $135,000 signing bonus. Last June, the Cubs selected Shawon Jr. in the 11th round out of Valley Christian High School in San Jose, Calif., and the high school outfielder received a $1.275 million bonus. He tweeted congrats to the other Draft picks:
SDUNSTONJR: THIS is a shoutout to all my Boys who signed this year in the draft! We working hard everyday to get where we want to be #theshow #onegoal
On Saturday, Dunston will complete his first month of pro ball, as the instructional league in Mesa, Ariz., comes to an end. He was one of 16 Cubs Draft picks who participated -- there were 46 players total -- and the new kids found out quickly how much work is involved from the outset. Practice began at 7:45 a.m., and after a brief lunch break, they also played a game at 12:30 p.m. against another organization's squad.
"In high school, you play two or three times a week, and here in pro ball, you play every day," Dunston Jr. said. "I have to mentally prepare myself to get ready every day."
In high school, players have some sort of scouting reports on their opponents. During instructional league games, players have to figure things out quickly. In his first game, Dunston homered -- and his father was there to see it -- but it's been an adjustment since.
SDUNSTONJR: it was going good my first pro game hit a bomb but since then been getting different and getting myself out
What does help is that Dunston Jr. can focus on baseball. He was set to attend Vanderbilt, and went to summer school to get a feel for college life. When the Cubs selected him, Dunston Jr. had to pick between school and baseball.
"It was up to me," he said of the decision. "My parents encouraged me to go [to summer school], but I told them first off, I wanted to go. I was going to school until the Sunday night [before the Aug. 15 deadline], when the Cubs came up with the money we wanted. They're going to pay for my school. Hopefully, I'll be up there [in the big leagues] in four, five years."
He's already set a timetable?
"I'm not trying to be here long," he said of the Minor Leagues. "I want to be at Wrigley Field, roaming in center field soon."
Baseball versus college was a tough choice. Dunston Jr. enjoyed his time at Vanderbilt. He was leaning toward a major in sports marketing or sports management.
"There was a point when I didn't want to sign, I was comfortable where I was at," he said. "[The Cubs] met the numbers, came close to it, and gave me first-round money, so it's a no-brainer, right there.
"After that, it was, 'Do I want to be in school for three years and get drafted again, and maybe get picked in a higher round -- or get first-round money now?'"
Dunston Jr. is hoping Brett Jackson, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2009, will also be in the outfield. Dunston Jr. has known Jackson for six years, having grown up in the same area in California. They talked this summer.
"He told me, 'Either route you go, you'll be fine,'" Dunston Jr. said. "[He said] 'You're a good ballplayer and you have a good foundation with your parents. Any way you go, you'll be good, you're positive, have a good foundation and know what you want.'
"I told him I'll be there soon," Dunston said.
Both play center field, but Dunston is hoping Jackson will slide over to one of the corners to make room for him.
"I hope to play with him and [Matt] Szczur and [Reggie] Golden and hopefully [Starlin] Castro is there and [Javier] Baez and [Dan] Vogelbach," Dunston Jr. said.
In case you're not up to date with his projected 2015 Cubs lineup: Szczur played for Class A Daytona and Class A Peoria in 2011; Golden was a second-round pick in 2010; Baez was the Cubs' first-round pick, while Vogelbach was taken in the second round; and Castro led the National League in hits this year at shortstop.
Dunston Jr. did play shortstop, like his dad, until he got to high school.
"We had a freshman who started on the varsity at shortstop, and the coach said, 'You'll play center field,'" he said.
SDUNSTONJR: Learning something new everyday down here in instructs! Getting Better #keeppushin #onegoal
Dunston Jr., who will turn 19 in February, will be back in Mesa for Spring Training. He is light years ahead of the other Cubs in that he's already celebrated a World Series. Shawon Sr. is a coach with the Giants and helps with the Class A San Jose team. The Dunston family rode in the parade after the Giants won the World Series in 2010.
Shawon Jr. has spent more time in the Giants' clubhouse than at Wrigley Field. His father played for San Francisco in 1996, '98 and 2001-02.
"I remember family games when I was 3 or 4 [years old] and that's about it," he said of his Cubs experiences. "The last time I was at Wrigley was '03, when they played the Braves in the Division Series. That's the last time I was in Chicago."
His father has prepped him about how devoted and passionate Cubs fans are.
"My dad said there are Cubs fans on the road wherever you go," Dunston Jr. said. "It's true."
The elder Dunston, now 48, also prepared his son as to what to expect with intense batting-practice sessions. Shawon Sr. isn't afraid to buzz his son with an inside pitch.
"He throws me tough," Dunston Jr. said. "Coming here, I was a little nervous about what to expect. This was a brand new ballgame. Now, it's fun."
As for his avid use of Twitter, Dunston Jr. said more than half of the Cubs players on the instructional league team have accounts. And his dad?
"He's not for Twitter or Facebook," Dunston Jr. said. "He doesn't like that."
SDUNSTONJR: Learned alot watching from the @MLBazFallLeague guys! Trying to play in that real soon #onegoal
Dunston Jr.'s messages have been positive. He's trying to make a name for himself.
"I had my ups and downs in high school, as well, especially my senior year," he said. "I started slow with the Draft stuff all in my head and college stuff. Thank God, that's over with, and I'm ready to play ball and get in the Cubs' system and get to the big leagues soon."
That kind of attitude will make any father proud.
"I just have to play my game," Dunston Jr. said. "I know what he did. I have my own career, and I'll just have to follow in his footsteps."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.