When the White Sox released the list of 20 non-roster players they were inviting to spring training, one name was noticeably absent. Where was Dane Dunning?
Dunning is one of the White Sox highest-rated prospects, a pitcher many believe can be a part of loaded starting rotation of the future and a guy who was having a sensational 2018 season before an arm injury brought that season to an early end.
There was fear Dunning might’ve been in for the same fate as Michael Kopech and require Tommy John surgery, but that didn’t end up happening. And after being in recovery mode since last summer, Dunning is apparently without restriction as spring training approaches.
But he won’t be in big league camp.
Hahn said during a Friday-night panel at SoxFest that the injury’s to blame, explaining that Dunning is clearly ticketed for Double-A Birmingham and that the team doesn’t need him to amp himself up — and overuse that recovered arm — by trying to make the big league roster at the tail end of camp.
"The reason for that is we know he’s starting the season at Double-A Birmingham. He’s not making the big league club right now," Hahn said. "And in a season coming off of injury where he needs to be ready for that Birmingham schedule on April 6 or whenever his spot comes up, we don’t want him throwing pitches in anger on Feb. 25 when our Cactus League schedule starts. So he’s fine, we’re easing him back in, we expect him to be part of that Birmingham rotation."
Hahn also added another interesting item on Dunning, saying that had the injury not happened and Dunning’s excellent 2018 continued as it had started, he’d be in the mix for a spot in the big league rotation this season.
"Quite frankly, had he not had the forearm setback last year, he probably would’ve been part of this conversation for the fifth spot coming into this season," he said. "He’s extremely polished, great pitch ability, great makeup. And the only thing that derailed his rapid ascent was the forearm issue. So we feel good about where he’s at."
The White Sox took their time with Kopech and have expressed a desire to do that with many of their top prospects, a group that would figure to include Dunning and Dylan Cease. While the pitchers appear to be moving along a little quicker than the position players during this rebuilding process, Dunning jumping from Class A Winston-Salem at the beginning of 2018 to a potential spot in the White Sox rotation by the start of 2019 would seem especially rapid.
But the internal options to fill the still-vacant fifth spot on the starting staff aren’t exactly thrilling. Hahn spent significant time talking up Manuel Banuelos on Friday night. The White Sox acquired him earlier this offseason, and he would be in a two-man competition with Dylan Covey for that fifth spot were the season to start tomorrow.
Of course, the season doesn’t start tomorrow, and Hahn signaled that more moves are likely coming. That might not mean specifically in the rotation, and the White Sox might move forward with a Banuelos-vs.-Covey showdown for the job. But with a lot of veteran arms still on the free-agent market, Hahn said the White Sox are still looking at external options. Remember back to last spring, when the White Sox signed a veteran capable of being a fifth starter, Hector Santiago, after the start of spring training.
As for Dunning, though, the future remains bright and his lack of an invite to spring training doesn’t seem to be a cause for concern.