Down on the Farm: Dunston Jr. aims to go from bat boy to outfielder for Giants

Down on the Farm: Dunston Jr. aims to go from bat boy to outfielder for Giants

As the child of a famous athlete, it’s easier said than done to make a name for yourself. Owning the same exact name as that person — in this case Shawon Dunston, the No. 1 pick in the 1982 MLB Draft — the stakes are even higher. 

"When I was younger that definitely took a toll on me," Shawon Dunston Jr., 24, said in an exclusive phone interview with "If I went 4-for-4 people would say 'Well your dad played so you should go 4-for-4' and if I went 0-for-4 it would be like, 'Your dad played and you're not even good.'" 

Dunston Jr. paved his path on the diamond starring at Valley Christian High School in San Jose. The speedy outfielder originally committed to college baseball powerhouse Vanderbilt University, but the Chicago Cubs selected Dunston Jr. in the 11th round of the 2011 MLB Draft — and he elected to go the pro route. A mere twenty-nine years earlier, the Cubs took the elder Dunston with the top pick in the '82 draft. 

Once Dunston Jr. reached pro ball, all the noise about his dad was put to rest. 

"I know how to tune that out. I love my dad. I look at my dad as dad first, not the ballplayer," said Dunston Jr. "Now I just worry about what I have to do. My dad did what he had to do and that's that." 

The senior Dunston knew it wouldn't be easy for his son. No matter what his son did on the field, people would talk but his message was simple — be yourself. 

"He said honestly you're in a lose-lose situation. If you do well they're going to say that you should just do well and if you don't do well they'll get too surprised," said Dunston Jr. "He just said honestly to do what you have to do, play hard, work hard, good things will happen and don't take the game for granted. Guys are gonna come after you because of who you are so just be ready for that and I've always put that in the back of my head."

In order for Dunston Jr. to continue to grow outside of the shadow of his famous father, it has become clear that his health is just as important as his stats. This was an early lesson after finding his way to the disabled list three times in the past two seasons. Ten games into the 2015 season, Dunston Jr. went down with a shoulder injury that sidelined him for two months. Then he suffered a strained hamstring just two games after his return.. He played only 24 games that year.

In 2016, his season came to a halt on July 14 in West Virginia due to a freak accident. Going for a ball in center field, he tore multiple ligaments in his ankle. The injury ended his season and required six months of rehab. 

"Mentally it was draining, but injuries are a part of the game and you have to deal with it. I mean you can't cry about it. It is what it is and now I'm just glad I'm fully back 100-percent healthy and I'm trying to stay that way,"

The season-ending ankle injury was especially frustrating as it came with a new franchise, the same one he grew up rooting for and ran around the field with his dad during the 2002 World Series. On June 8, 2016, the Cubs traded Dunston Jr. to the Giants after four-and-a-half years in Chicago's farm system. After hearing the news from his coaches in Lynchburg, Virginina, he called his parents — and the emotions set in. 

"At first I was kind of in shock a little bit, didn't know what to think or do," Dunston Jr. remembers. "It was weird because the Cubs were the only thing I knew growing up since I was 18 with the organization that drafted me. That's all I knew, that's all I'd been around.”

He went through about a two-week adjustment period with his new team, but then it was back to the game he has been around since Day 1.

"After that it was just baseball and I said I'm with a new team and it's a fresh start. It's still the same game. You're gonna hit the ball, throw, run. So after that I got my mind right and said let's get at it."

And get at it he did. In the 24 games he played with the Single-A Augusta GreenJackets, Dunston Jr. hit .284 with a .348 on-base percentage and .407 slugging percentage, increasing his numbers across the board. Some adjustments were made after learning from new coaches. But more than anything, the biggest change to his game was getting the consistent at-bats he needed -- until he went down. 

“The only thing that was frustrating was that I got hurt, because I think I was figuring things out little by little."

The first real Giants memories for Dunston Jr. came in 2001 when his father began his third stint in San Francisco to end his career.

“Memories, honestly, probably 2001, 2002 seeing Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, Rich Aurilia and J.T. Snow, all those guys,” said Dunston Jr. “I remember it like it was yesterday being in the dugout, being the bat boy, especially in the [2002] World Series. My dad's last year, seeing that team, those are probably the first memories of the Giants growing up in the Bay Area.” 

Any team that drafted Dunston Jr. would be making a dream come true and the Cubs made that happen in 2011. The fact he is a part of the Giants now though, is a reality he never believed possible. 

“Before the draft you just wanna be drafted by any team, but yeah, I always wanted to play for the Giants,” says Dunston Jr. “It's pretty surreal going through the minor leagues with the team that I grew up watching and I'm just waiting for my time to come in San Francisco. Until then, I'll continue to work hard in the minor leagues.” 

The younger Dunston has proven to be his own player on the field while moving away from the shadow of his father. Now, to go from bat boy to outfielder in San Francisco, Dunston Jr. hopes for health first over anything else to show off his skillset and climb the minor league ladder.

Giants' outfield picture becoming clearer after latest round of roster cuts

Giants' outfield picture becoming clearer after latest round of roster cuts

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants moved closer to setting their opening day roster on Monday when they made a significant round of cuts to their spring training roster. 

A total of 15 players were reassigned or optioned, bringing the total to 31 players remaining in camp. Many of the players cut Monday entered the spring competing for jobs. 

In the outfield, Mac Williamson and Austin Slater were optioned to Triple-A and Chris Shaw was reassigned to minor league camp. Williamson had a huge spring and was the likeliest of the trio to push for an opening day spot, but he'll start his year in the minors. Steven Duggar was not among the cuts, and he remains an option to make the team, with the Giants also looking at Gregor Blanco, Gorkys Hernandez and Jarrett Parker for backup spots. Hernandez and Parker are out of minor league options. 

Tyler Beede was optioned and Andrew Suarez was reassigned to minor league camp, leaving three players vying for the final two rotation spots. Ty Blach and Chris Stratton have been the favorites all along, although both struggled the last time out and Derek Holland has had a strong spring. 

Both backup catchers -- Trevor Brown and Hector Sanchez -- were reassigned, along with Orlando Calixte, who saw time in the big leagues last year. Joan Gregorio, Jose Valdez, Justin O'Conner and Kyle Jensen were also reassigned. Chase d'Arnaud, who appeared to be making a strong push, was on the list, too, leaving Josh Rutledge as the only competition for Kelby Tomlinson for the final infield spot. 

Finally, Derek Law and Roberto Gomez were optioned to Triple-A. Josh Osich remains and appears the frontrunner for a bullpen job. Julian Fernandez, the Rule 5 pick, also remains in camp. 

The Giants break camp on Friday.

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.