Feature Photo: Parker Dunshee, RHP, Athletics
As far as professional debuts go, it is hard to top the one that right-hander Parker Dunshee is putting together this season. After a two-inning tune-up appearance with the Oakland A’s Arizona Rookie League affiliate, Dunshee joined the Short-Season A Vermont Lake Monsters in the New York-Penn League on June 27. Since then, all he’s done is rattle off 38 1/3 scoreless innings, during which he has allowed only 27 baserunners.
The A’s 2017 seventh-round pick (#201 overall) out of Wake Forest came to pro ball with a solid collegiate resume. A four-year pitcher for the Demon Deacons, Dunshee turned down a chance to go pro in 2016 as a 14th-round pick of the Chicago Cubs, and instead posted a 9-1 record with 111 strikeouts in 103 2/3 innings during his senior season. Dunshee finished his career as the program’s all-time leader in strikeouts.
The strikeouts have continued to be a staple for Dunshee with Vermont. In those 38 1/3 innings, he has 45 of them, while batters are hitting only .119 against him. Those numbers might imply that Dunshee has an overpowering arsenal. However, the right-hander’s fastball sits around 90 mph. So how, exactly, has he been so dominant?
“Nuke [Vermont manager Aaron Nieckula] finally put the position players in the right spots,” A’s minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson said with a laugh.
“A certain amount of luck has to be included in all of this. A ball that is one inch in the right direction and it’s caught instead of being a hit, but he does everything that you would want him to do,” Patterson continued. “He fills up the strike zone, has a quick tempo, doesn’t back down, low walks, good strikeouts, good ground balls. He’s not afraid and he’s a great athlete. It’s been a pleasure to watch him pitch.”
Dunshee also gives a lot of credit to his defense for keeping the streak going.
“These guys have been making incredible plays behind me. A big part of me being able to have this incredible scoreless streak is them making plays,” Dunshee said. “I think three times I’ve had a first and either third or second with one out this season and all three times I have gotten double-play balls, so those guys have picked me up there. That’s been awesome. They are as much of a part of it as I am.”
Dunshee has enjoyed the streak, but he hasn’t focused on it.
“You definitely don’t think about it. It’s kind of just the sum of a number of good outings strung together over the course of a season, but if you are focused on the results and trying to do something like this, it usually won’t work,” he said. “I’ve just tried to focus on each outing and one pitch and making each pitch every time I’m up there. It’s been really fun so far to have good results. Hopefully I can build on this going into the playoffs and into next season.”
Patterson says the A’s haven’t tweaked Dunshee’s game much yet, other than to encourage him to throw his changeup more often than he did in college. Dunshee likes the results he is getting with the changeup. He also throws a slider to round out the mix.
“I’ve worked on it a lot here. Playing catch with it everyday has helped me get a feel for it because it’s a pitch that is tough to get a feel for,” Dunshee said. “In college, maybe I had to show that I had one to lefties or show the other the team that I was willing to throw it, but I never had to really use it as a weapon to get guys out.”
Right-handers often use their changeup as an equalizer against left-handed hitters, but Dunshee says he is starting to use it as a weapon versus right-handers, as well.
“It’s just a different look for righties. It’s something moving down-and-in to them. My fastball is more four-seam and it stays pretty straight and true,” Dunshee said. “With the changeup moving down-and-in, you are looking for weak contact and a groundball somewhere. Or it’s to put something in the back of their minds. If they take it for a ball, but they know that you are willing to do that, that just makes your other pitches that much more effective.”
Dunshee’s slider is also an effective pitch secondary pitch and he feels comfortable throwing it in any count. However, he says everything works off of his fastball.
“I feel pretty comfortable right now with the command of all of my pitches,” Dunshee said. “I think that has been really big for me, being able to throw any pitch in any count. It makes being on time as a hitter tougher.”
Patterson sees the potential for Dunshee to add some velocity on his fastball next season.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him after some much needed rest and recovery in our off-season program. Bringing him in for spring training, it will be interesting to see possibly if [the velocity] spikes,” Patterson said. “I’m not overly concerned if it doesn’t. But if it does, it could make him a little bit better with the knowledge of the way he pitches now, because he’s a true pitcher.”
Dunshee’s “pitchability” receives high marks from coaches and scouts in the A’s organization. Shortly after the draft, Neil Avent, Dunshee’s signing scout, touted Dunshee’s “feel for pitching.” A’s director of player development Keith Lieppman calls Dunshee the “real surprise of [the A’s] draft so far.”
“He’s very aggressive and really has no fear out there. He is very focused and he obviously came out of a good college program and has a good sense of competing,” Lieppman said. “There is an air of confidence when he stands out there and the hitters feel it because he isn’t afraid of them.”
Dunshee says he learned a lot about the art of pitch sequencing while in college.
“Being able to read swings is something that the coaches at Wake really helped me out with,” Dunshee said. “They called the games in college, but they trusted me if I wanted to shake or something like that because as long as a I had a good reason for it, they were fine with it.
“In the pros, it is different. It’s you and your catcher on your own. You have to have your own game plan and the more that you can be in sync with the catcher, the better it usually goes. I try not to shake too much, but I definitely think about the pitch I want to throw before the catcher gives the sign and the catchers up here have been great about being on the same page with us and working with us and calling really good games.”
At the lower levels, Dunshee’s ability to game plan has been a big advantage for him.
“Guys are a little bit more aggressive here than they are in college, not just on the fastballs in the ‘zone. They are looking to get a swing off of a pitch that they can handle early,” Dunshee said. “In college, guys are trying to work the count and get on-base and play for a walk, a bunt and then a single. Here, guys are looking to do damage with most swings or hit the ball hard because that’s the best way for them to get noticed and move up. Guys are definitely aggressive and they’ll hit mistakes.”
Dunshee’s fastball command and his ability to mix his pitches give him a chance to climb the ladder as a starter despite lacking an overpowering fastball. He has walked only eight this season and is averaging 14.5 pitches per inning. The A’s have kept Dunshee on a pitch- and innings-limit since he threw so many innings during his college season, but Dunshee profiles as a starter who can carry a heavy workload and last deep into games. He is a good athlete with a repeatable delivery and, at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, a solid starter’s frame.
While the Patterson is happy with Dunshee’s current mechanics, he believes Dunshee may benefit down-the-road from a slight change to his throwing motion.
“From a delivery standpoint, we might be able to tweak him a bit,” Patterson said. “He can probably finish a little bit better, which would enhance everything: his command and stuff. He does spin off a little bit.”
Patterson likes how Dunshee’s three-pitch mix works now, but he acknowledges that as Dunshee advances, they may try to introduce a wrinkle or two. Dunshee’s fastball is true, so he may benefit down-the-road from a cut-fastball to give him a similar looking pitch that has some movement.
“Right now, we’ll probably go with [Dunshee’s current pitch mix] until a league tells him he has to do something better,” Patterson said.
For the moment, the New York-Penn League is suggesting Dunshee shouldn’t change a thing.