OF prospect Dunn aims to build off breakout '23

February 7th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mark Sheldon’s Reds Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CINCINNATI -- As he heads into 2024, Reds outfield prospect Blake Dunn is already prepping for two new experiences.

Dunn, 25, will be at his first big league camp in Spring Training in a couple of weeks. Just as refreshing for him and the organization, he'll also be building off a full healthy season for the first time as a professional.

"The biggest thing for me was finally being able to have that full season, and being able to experience the highs and lows and keep myself in the middle of that mentally," said Dunn, who was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Reds' No. 22 prospect in 2023.

In a pivotal year for his development, Dunn batted .312 with a .947 OPS, 23 home runs, 79 RBIs and 54 stolen bases over a combined 124 games for High-A Dayton and Double-A Chattanooga. The right-handed-hitting center fielder was one of only five players in the last 30 years (including three in 2023 alone) to produce a 20-homer, 50-steal Minor League season.

On Jan. 24, Dunn was presented with the Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award as the organization's Minor League Player of the Year.

“Mentally, for me, I always felt that the ability was there," Dunn said. "Going back to college, playing four years there and succeeding. Then coming in here and feeling like I was able to perform on the field, when I was on the field. It’s really hard when you’re in and out of the injuries, in and out of rehab. It’s hard to get into a groove. That’s what is so beneficial about a long season. You’ll obviously have droughts and times when you’re not swinging it well or seeing it well. But when you get into one of those grooves, you feel like you’re on top of the world."

A 15th-round selection in the 2021 MLB Draft out of Western Michigan, Dunn was limited to only 48 games over his first two pro seasons. The most serious injury, a right shoulder sprain, cost him most of the '22 season with Single-A Daytona.

During an injury-free 2023, Dunn's natural ability was finally on full display offensively and defensively.

“Being able to play a full season and get on base, I was able to take advantage of my speed and athleticism," Dunn said. "That’s always been there. It’s always a tool in my toolkit when I’m out on the field.”

Over 47 games with Dayton, Dunn batted .276 with an .871 OPS, eight homers, 27 RBIs and 19 steals. Promoted to Chattanooga in June, he batted .332 with a .989 OPS, 15 homers, 52 RBIs and 35 steals in 77 games on his way to a Southern League batting title. He led all Reds Minor Leaguers in homers, hits, total bases and runs.

Dunn hasn't made any mechanical hitting adjustments in the offseason while at home in Saugatuck, Mich., but his focus is to continue improving his approach of hitting to all fields.

“I want to be able to drive the ball to the opposite-field gap, get it over the right fielder’s head for some doubles or triples and maybe some home runs if I catch it right," Dunn said. "I’m really trying to hammer the opposite field with hard line drives and always have that in my back pocket.”

Dunn will be among the non-roster invitees at Reds camp when the full squad reports on Feb. 18 to the Spring Training complex in Goodyear, Ariz.