Shawon Dunston Jr. wants to make his own impact on Cubs

Shawon Dunston Jr. wants to make his own impact on Cubs
April 29, 2014, 9:15 pm
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Tony Andracki

When suburban Cubs fans heard Shawon Dunston's son was going to be playing for the Kane County Cougars, some may have dusted off their old "Shawon-O-Meter" signs.

But Shawon Dunston Jr. would prefer to pave his own way within the organization.

The Cubs made the elder Dunston the first overall pick in the 1982 Draft and he quickly became a fan favorite, carving out a nice 12-year career on the North Side, hitting 107 homers, stealing 175 bags and showing off his laser-rocket arm from shortstop.

Dunston Jr. is attempting to make it along a different path, as an outfielder chosen in the 11th round. But the legacy from his father will always hang over his head.

"He's taught me everything I know about baseball and life in general," Dunston Jr. said. "I don't really feel pressure with him being an infielder and me being an outfielder. I've heard it all my entire life, people who compare me to my dad."

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Dunston Jr. is off to something of a slower start to his professional career than his father. The elder Dunston played his age-21 season in Double-A and Triple-A and made his big-league debut a year later at age 22. Dunston Jr. turned 21 in February, but is getting his first taste of Low-A action in Kane County.

"It's cool and all, but people who talk bad about me in the media, I read all that stuff," Dunston Jr. said. "I read it all. It's pretty motivating, especially in the offseason. I read the stuff. It makes you work extra hard in the gym or take more [batting practice]. I'm just ready to go out there and get after it this season."

Dunston Jr. was too young to remember much of his father's career with the Cubs, but the elder Dunston imparted the traditions and history down to his son, even before the Cubs took him out of Valley Christian High School (San Jose, Cali.) in the 2011 Draft.

Dunston Jr. has heard all the stories and knows some of the guys his dad played with on the Cubs, including a trio of Hall of Famers - Greg Maddux, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg - as well as franchise icons Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa.

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Despite his legacy, Dunston Jr. struggled in his first season in the organization in 2012. After 39 games in rookie ball in Arizona, the Cubs bumped him up to short-season A-ball in Boise, where he hit just .185 in 19 games.

He rebounded with Boise in 2013, putting up a .290/.378/.358 slash line in 49 games with 12 steals and an impressive 28 walks compared to 25 strikeouts.

"I can improve on every aspect of my game," Dunston said. "Just feeding off last year. I kinda changed my approach. My first year, I got humbled real good. The first time experiencing failure and embarassament in the game of baseball.

"That offseason, I worked hard to make sure it would never happen again. And then last year, I had a pretty successful season. I just worked hard and focused on doing little things. I'm not going to hit 30 home runs, but I know I can steal bases, get on base, hit a double, work the count and have my teammates drive me in.

"I'm not at the big leagues yet, and that's where I'm striving to be hopefully in the near future. I'm just trying to work hard and keep a level head and not get too high or too low."

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Dunston Sr. helped instill that even-keeled approach in his son, but the professional game is still an adjustment, even for a kid who grew up in MLB clubhouses. Through the first 15 games of 2014, Dunston Jr. was hitting just .163 with a .497 OPS with the Cougars.

"In high school, you can coast through," Dunston Jr. said. "In pro ball, you can't coast any day. Guys are out there to try to embarrass you. I felt like I got embarrassed in Boise in 2012. It's hard to swallow.

"I wanted to make sure that doesn't happen ever again to me. My last year, I was real motivated. I wanted to prove a point and make a statement and I think I did that."

Dunston Jr. was raised in California and caught a glimpse of the Chicago market at Cubs Convention in January 2012, taking part in a legacy session with his father and a pair of other father-son duos - Keith and Daniel Lockhart, Bob and Michael Brenly.

Now, he's playing half his games 40 miles west of Wrigley Field in front of a fanbase that might be more focused on prospects and the future than the big-league club.

The Cubs are doing their best to get each player at every level into their system to buy into "The Cubs Way." Every prospect wants to be the one to bring the franchise to the promised land after a 105-year (and counting...) championship drought.

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"Play hard. The field represents the Cubs organization," Dunston Jr. said. "You're not playing just for yourself. You're playing for the whole organization, the city of Chicago.

"We always have a saying, 'When it happens.' We're trying to make it happen in the minor leagues. So once our day comes in the big leagues, we hopefully will make the playoffs and contend for a World Series one day.

"I know the Cubs have not won in many years and we want to be that first group of guys to bring a championship back to Chicago."