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Druley: Dunston Jr. likely among new batch of Cougars

Cubs outfield prospect Shawon Dunston Jr. batted .290 in 49 games for Short-A Boise in 2013, stealing 12 bases in 14 attempts. Dunston is likely to begin the season with the Class-A Cougars.
Cubs outfield prospect Shawon Dunston Jr. batted .290 in 49 games for Short-A Boise in 2013, stealing 12 bases in 14 attempts. Dunston is likely to begin the season with the Class-A Cougars.

GENEVA – Cougars fans exercised great faith well before their club became a Class-A Cubs affiliate in September 2012.

Being a diehard when more “L” flags than “W” flags are part of the prospectus is one thing. It’s quite another when you don’t know which players you’ll be rooting for until April.

Single-game tickets for the 2014 Cougars season went on sale Thursday, a few weeks before Cubs minor leaguers begin spring training. In lieu of scratching your head to predict the roster, envision a group that’s wet behind the ears.

“We’ve gotten to a point in our organization where we’ve gotten pretty young and we’ve been the youngest at most of the affiliates,” said Cubs assistant director of player development and international scouting Alex Suarez. “This is what we’ve been trying to get to as an organization, is get younger but also bring in impact talent.

“To say at this point who will end up being here, we’ve still got [two] months, but it’ll be a young, dynamic group of kids, because we’ve got some young kids coming that are pretty interesting as evidenced by the club that played in Mesa and Boise this year.”

Center fielder Shawon Dunston Jr., who turned 21 Wednesday, is likely to fit the bill. Naturally, spring training goes a long way in determining a player’s landing spot, but after batting .290 with 12 steals in 49 games at Short-A Boise in 2013, Kane County is the logical next step on the ladder.

An 11th-round pick of the Cubs in 2011 and the son of former All-Star Cubs infielder Shawon Dunston, Dunston Jr. has shown resilience since a demotion from Boise early in the 2012 season. He missed three weeks with a leg injury late in the 2013 season but has worked back to full speed this winter.

“As long as he keeps hitting the benchmarks of his player plan and he continues progressing through spring training, he obviously has a shot to compete for a spot on this club,” Suarez said.

Baseball America rated a few players who spent significant time with Boise last season among the Cubs’ top 2014 prospects.

Right-hander Paul Blackburn, a 2012 first-round pick, headlined that list at No. 12. Righty Dillon Maples – who pitched with the Cougars in parts of 2013 – is 18th, while second baseman Danny Lockhart ranked 30th. Lockhart also is a major league legacy; his dad, Keith, spent most of his 10-year career as an Atlanta Braves’ second baseman.

As Suarez said, spring training “dictates a lot, you know.” Until camp breaks, Cougars fans know this much: Midwest League opening day is set for April 3, and the home opener is April 8.

Family field trip: Shane Farrell’s boss knows all about the Boston Red Sox, so there were no tussles over his whereabouts on the nights of Oct. 27, 28 and 30, 2013.

Farrell, a Cubs amateur scouting assistant, attended the final three games of the World Series last fall. Farrell is the son of John Farrell, who managed the Red Sox to a title against the St. Louis Cardinals in six games.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein served as Red Sox general manager for Boston’s past two World Series winners – in 2004 and 2007 – and Farrell is optimistic his own organization can capture that success. Ideally, his dad will be on hand to see it, returning his son’s favor from 2013.

“I mean, hopefully we’re there one day and he’s pulling for us, but it was a pretty special time and a great experience to be there in October and to be with my whole family when they won it,” Farrell said. “It was great. It was a great experience. Looking forward to the day that we’re there, as well.”

Giving back: Farrell, Suarez and newly minted player development and international scouting assistant Kenny Socorro – a Cougars coach last season – offered tutelage Saturday at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark as part of a Cougars youth coaching clinic.

“This is a great experience, something I can relate to and think back to when I was growing up,” said Farrell, a former college pitcher. “I’m sure a few of my coaches went to events like this and it paid off for me, so it’s great to help them out any way I can.”

Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.

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