Yanks' Dunham sizzling in Arizona

October 30th, 2021

MESA, Ariz. -- Two constants in the early part of the Arizona Fall League season have been that the Surprise Saguaros win and Elijah Dunham gets on base.

Both those things happened again on Thursday as the Saguaros (11-3) rallied from an early four-run deficit to defeat the Mesa Solar Sox (7-7) in a matchup of the developmental circuit's division leaders. Dunham collected three hits (including two doubles), walked once and was hit by a pitch, scoring two runs and driving in two more as Surprise won its sixth straight game, 10-9.

 "It's a lot of fun with this group of guys because we're having a good time," Dunham said. "We're also competitive and we really like to play together. I think because we're competitive and having a good time, everything's going right."

A lot is going right for Dunham, who's batting .389/.522/.694 with a pair of home runs and seven steals in the Fall League. The Yankees left fielder has reached base in each of his nine starts and done so multiple times in seven of them, walking eight times and striking out just twice in 46 plate appearances. Yet he says the first of those whiffs, against Blue Jays right-hander Cre Finfrock in the third game of the season, has keyed his performance.

"My first strikeout of the year here, I got blown up," Dunham said. "I couldn't even make a decision because I was late on my timing. So I had a conversation with Justin Foscue, who's on our team, because we have the same hitting guy in Nashville [Hunter Bledsoe]. He kind of explained to me what his method of timing was.

"It finally clicked for me that there wasn't a certain timing point that the pitcher gives you, it's when you need to go. For me, I need to go really early and try to go really slow. That's really opened up some vision things for me and a lot of confidence because I'm really seeing it well at the plate."

Dunham has a relatively compact left-handed stroke, produces the bat speed and strength to hit for power and controls the strike zone well. He's an average runner who's aggressive on the bases and is capable of playing either outfield corner or first base.

Despite those tools and a track record of production at Indiana and in college summer leagues, Dunham went unpicked in the shortened five-round Draft in 2020. Though he described that disappointment as a heartbreaker and had two years of eligibility remaining with the Hoosiers, he opted to sign with the Yankees for $20,000 as a nondrafted free agent because he was 22 and wanted to start his pro career. After hitting .263/.362/.463 with 13 homers and 28 steals in his 93-game debut this summer between Low-A and High-A, he has no doubts he made the right decision.

"The thing is, you got to play good at some point," Dunham said. "No one's ever made it to the bigs not playing good. If you believe in yourself and you're confident in yourself, go take your shot."

Royals right fielder Seuly Matias put Surprise ahead for good with a three-run homer that capped a six-run fourth inning against Blue Jays left-hander Brody Rodning, a drive that traveled 387 feet with an exit velocity of 105 mph. Matias is tied for third in the AFL with four homers.

Cubs right fielder Nelson Velazquez (No. 29) also hit his fourth homer in the Fall League for Mesa, a 433-foot solo shot at 110 mph in the sixth inning against Rangers right-hander Tim Brennan. Cubs third baseman Andy Weber added a three-run blast (410 feet, 106 mph) in the ninth off Nationals righty Todd Peterson, his first of the fall.