Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Reds salivate over Dunn




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[dunn]
Adam Dunn
        SARASOTA, Fla. — Adam Dunn is built like a tight end, with the quickness to play quarterback. He has thrown baseballs faster than 90 mph and hit them farther than 500 feet.

        Dunn is what the scouts used to call a “specimen,” an athlete of extraordinary ability and breathtaking possibilities. He stands 6-foot-6, weighs 245 pounds and moves like a get-away car.

        Imagine a Jim Thome with superior speed. Imagine him sharing outfield space with Ken Griffey Jr., circa 2003. Imagine the Reds' long fallow farm system producing a pinstriped Paul Bunyan.

        “I saw Adam take a bad swing on a bad pitch in instructional league, and he hit the ball up on the roof,” Reds General Manager Jim Bowden said Tuesday. “He's one of those kids with unlimited potential.”

        A disclaimer: Nothing is more tantalizing or more tricky than projecting the careers of Class-A ballplayers, and no one is so quick to hype his draft choices as James G. Bowden IV.

        Dunn spent last season with Rockford of the Midwest League and probably will start the 2000 season with the Class-A Dayton Dragons. Even on the Reds' fast track, he is probably two or three years away from the major leagues, and a lot of things can go wrong between the low minors and the big time. Prospects typically progress until they step up one class too many and are unable to cope with the quality of pitching. For every kid who climbs all the way through their system, the Reds reject dozens.

        That said, Adam Dunn is one of those guys who may not be governed by the law of averages. He hit his first home run as a 4-year-old playing tee ball and struck one of the longest shots in the history of Texas hyperbole as a junior at New Caney High School.

        Dead-center field. Over the 405-foot mark. Above the pine trees behind the fence. Almost beyond comprehension.

        “I've never hit a ball like that,” Dunn said Tuesday afternoon, one large hand wrapped around an overmatched sandwich. “It was an aluminum bat, but I've never hit a ball that hard. I don't even want to guess how far it went.”

        Dunn's baseball potential prompted superlatives from the scouts, but his versatility gave them pause. Because he was also a star-quality quarterback, recruited by the University of Texas, many clubs were convinced Dunn was committed to college football. Bowden says the Reds regarded Dunn as one of the 10 best players in the 1998 amateur draft, but they managed to get him in the second round because other clubs evidently misread his intentions.

        “Everybody knew about him,” said Johnny Almaraz, the Reds' national cross-checker. “All the things you wanted to see as a baseball scout were there. But everybody was so afraid of him not wanting to play baseball. I really don't think many of the teams talked to him.”

        Almaraz put the question to Dunn directly and decided he could be persuaded to forsake football. Dunn enrolled at Texas but committed to the Reds full-time following a visit to Sarasota last spring. After a dreadful start at Rockford, Dunn finished with a .307 average, 11 home runs and 21 stolen bases in 93 games. Monday, sharpening his swing at the Reds complex, Dunn hit one shot that barely missed a passing car.

        Near the end of the Griffey negotiations, the Seattle Mariners were eager to include Dunn in prospective trade packages, but the outfielder had become as “untouchable” as Elliot Ness. Much as the Reds prize his power, they also believe his example prods other prospects to improve their work habits.

        “He's a winner,” Bowden said. “He's got that special leadership quality that only a few have. As soon as we drafted him, we wanted him to play with players who need a little push.”

        Before reporting for spring training with the Reds, Dunn spent four weeks at an intensive baseball camp in Bradenton, Fla. Tuesday, he reported for work at 6:30a.m.

        “It's a business,” he said. “You have to do what you can to get an edge on people.”

        Adam Dunn, 20, was born with an edge. He is blessed with ambition. Imagine a giant with the diligence of an ant.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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