Kane County Cougars' Dunston Jr. regroups after trying 2012 season
Son of former Cub regroups after trying 2012
GENEVA – A few breaths after joking about the Midwest League's traditonally chilly April weather, Kane County Cougars outfielder Shawon Dunston Jr. addressed blanket failure head-on.
"Everything," Dunston said. "Hitting wise, stealing bases, defense. I haven't been embarrassed like that, ever, in baseball."
The 2012 season was the topic, and the catalyst that still drives those memories and Dunston himself was his demotion from the parent Cubs' Short-A affiliate in Boise to the Rookie League club in Arizona.
That's not supposed to happen to any prospect, let alone the son of an All-Star infielder who spent 12 of his 18 big league seasons with the Cubs.
Yes, Dunston is a major league legacy, same as infielder Daniel Lockhart, whose father, Keith, is now a Cubs area scout. Had it not been for a late-spring training trade sending outfielder Trevor Gretzky to the Angels, the Kane County clubhouse likely would have welcomed another famous son to the brood.
Dunston and Lockhart's fathers played against each other from the mid-1990s to the early-2000s, and those stories remain fresh at hand when the men meet. While both players lean on their dads' careers to help bolster their own, they also serve as sounding boards for one another.
"I mean, everywhere we go, it's, 'Shawon Dunston and Shawon Dunston Jr.,' and then 'Keith Lockhart and Daniel Lockhart,' " Lockhart said. "We're definitely trying to make it just like them, but also kind of make a name for ourselves."
An 11th-round pick in 2011, Dunston rebounded from a dismal 2012 by batting .290 as Boise's leadoff hitter last season, stealing 12 bases in 49 games.
He missed 20 games with a quad injury and will be the Cougars' fourth outfielder to begin 2014. A newfound resolve suggests Dunston won't be comfortable in that role for long.
Admittedly immature at the start of his pro career, Dunston, 21, credits a heightened mental approach to helping him recoup. He needed all the resolve he could get after hitting .185 in 19 games to start 2012, collecting 12 hits against 14 strikeouts.
He called the stretch "the first time I experienced failure," in part a result of not having a true approach at the plate after operating as a free swinger at Valley Christian (Calif.) High. Dunston looked inward, and is glad he did.
"Your attitude. You can always control your attitude," Dunston said. "You can't control you getting hits, but you can control playing hard, you can control being a good teammate, you can control being cool with the guys, being cool with your coaches."
Naturally, Dunston also channels a strong relationship with his dad, who travels with the San Francisco Giants as the club's primary instant replay liaison.
Dunston stayed with his dad during spring training and enjoyed a little extra time with him as the Giants opened their season in Phoenix against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The two talked about the possibility of the elder Dunston watching his son play at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark this season.
The Giants visit the White Sox from June 17 to 18 and the Cubs from Aug. 19 to 21. While the June series falls during the MWL All-Star break, the Cougars will be home against Burlington and Clinton on those dates in August.
"My dad has been a great influence on me. I mean, he taught me everything I know about baseball and life in general," Dunston said. "He just tells me to keep it simple, you know. You have good days and bad days. Just remember where you came from and all works out for the best, pretty much."
In an outfield ripe with athletes – namely 2013 third-round pick Jake Hannemann in center field – Dunston looks to occupy the corner spots when needed, usually left field.
Manager Mark Johnson – who managed Boise in 2012 – at first called Dunston "the swing guy." The label applied to playing time, but might just capture Dunston's temparament, too.
"You root for the guys that get in there and just really battle," Johnson said. "That's all you can ask for."
Dunston knows the rest builds from there.
"I'm just ready to improve still," he said. "Have a good season in Kane County and hopefully be one of the better players in the league."