In a normal year, 2017 Saugatuck High School graduate Blake Dunn would have been a shoo-in to be selected in the MLB draft that took place on Wednesday, June 10, and Thursday, June 11.
But this is far from a normal year.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the draft was shortened from 40 rounds to five rounds, meaning just 160 players would be selected as opposed to the 1,217 that were chosen last year.
Still, Dunn remained cautiously optimistic.
“My advisor heard from several teams that were interested,” said Dunn, a junior outfielder at Western Michigan University who was ranked as the 95th best prospect in the draft class and projected to be taking in the fourth round by D1Baseball. “Playing professional sports has always been a goal of mine and I was looking forward to that opportunity.”
But when the Houston Astros selected UC San Diego pitcher Shay Whitcomb with the 160th and final pick in the draft, Dunn realized he would have to wait another year to achieve that goal.
“Not getting drafted is obviously disappointing,” Dunn said. “But I believe all things happen for a reason and I’m just going to use this to motivate me even more. I’m going to work even harder, go back to Western for my senior year and hopefully help the team win a MAC championship and get into the postseason.”
Even as the draft was unfolding, Dunn said his advisor heard from multiple teams who expressed interest in selecting him. There was, however, a catch.
“Teams were asking my advisor if I’d be willing to sign for well below slot value,” Dunn said. “That’s not really something I was interested in doing. Why sign for $70,000 when I can go back to Western and get my degree and have a great season on the baseball field?”
Dunn also had the option of signing as an undrafted free agent, though he never considered doing so as those players are limited to a $20,000 signing bonus.
Like D1Baseball, DraftSite had Dunn projected as a fourth-round selection. Specifically, it had him going at No. 125 to the Tampa Bay Rays.
MLB.com, meanwhile, had Dunn rated a bit lower at No. 172 on its list of top 200 prospects available for the draft. Still, that was well within range for Dunn to be selected.
Dunn’s overall athleticism was considered his biggest asset. That athleticism was on full display during Dunn’s prep days at Saugatuck High School, as he garnered All-State honors in football, basketball and track in addition to baseball.
Baseball American named Dunn the second-best athlete in the draft behind only University of Minnesota pitcher Max Meyer, who was selected third overall by the Miami Marlins.
Baseball America also ranked Dunn as fourth for best speed and best defensive outfielder.
Baseball America’s profile of Dunn read:
“A plus-plus runner with huge arm strength and raw power, it’s easy to fall in love with the many ways that Dunn can impact a game… Dunn has electric athleticism, and that combined with his running ability makes him a no-doubt center fielder at the next level where he can track down baseballs deep in the gaps and also throw runners out with his potential 70-grade arm (on an 80 scale).”
D1Baseball also praised Dunn’s athleticism in its profile, which said the following:
“Strong-bodied and quick-twitch at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, Dunn is a 70-grade athlete and physically resembles Cole Calhoun. Dunn was a catcher as a prep, but has since moved to center field where his plus-plus speed plays from gap to gap. He’s a solid average defender with an above average arm. He must reduce his strikeout rate while improving his power, and was off to that type of start in 2020 with six extra-base hits and just 12 strikeouts in 69 plate appearances to go along with 11 stolen bases. Overall, there aren’t too many athletes of his caliber in college baseball and Dunn will likely be considered around the fourth round.”
Dunn entered the season as one of 55 players named to the preseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award—which goes to the top amateur baseball player each year—and was included on D1Baseball’s list of top 150 college hitters.
While disappointed that he didn’t get drafted, Dunn has already shifted his focus to getting ready for next season. That includes working out at his family’s home gym and playing for the Kalamazoo Growlers of the Northwoods League.
The Northwoods League typically starts at the end of May, but its opening was delayed due to the pandemic. The Growlers are slated for their season opener on Wednesday, July 1. The season will consist of a 60-game schedule that concludes with a three-day playoff schedule from Sept. 3-5.
“I’m looking forward to getting back on the field,” said Dunn, who hasn’t played since mid-March when the season was cancelled due to COVID-19. “I’ve missed playing and I can’t wait to get back to it.”
Dunn was hitting .288 before the season was stopped, leading WMU with two home run, 11 stolen bases and 17 RBI.
“I thought we had a really good team at Western this year and it was really disappointing that we didn’t get to see how good we really were,” Dunn said. “But we have almost everybody coming back next year and it should be a fun season for us.”
Dunn has talked to several of his coaches and teammates in the days since the draft.
“I know my coaches and teammates were disappointed for me that I didn’t get drafted, but they’re also excited to have me back,” Dunn said.
Last year at WMU, Dunn hit .374 with five home runs, 29 RBI, 43 runs and 30 stolen bases to earn First Team All-MAC honors. As a freshman he hit .308 with 18 RBI and 25 runs.