From birth through 2018, the baseball life of one Joe Dunand had been pretty fluid self-explanatory. Then, a subpar first full season in the upper minors followed by a lost MiLB season in what was thought to be a tell-tale campaign for him led to some doubt. In 2021, Dunand, participating in his fourth spring training camp, has really turned some heads. How has he done it? By adding confidence, making the most of opportunities that have approached him and and through continuing to trust his extremely valuable support system.
Joseph Dunand Jr. is the son of Joseph Dunand Sr, the half brother of one Alex Rodriguez, the 16th best player to ever lace up a pair of cleats in terms of career WAR. According to a 2020 report by Rick Thomas, Dunand’s indoctrination to the game began early. As a child, Dunand was a regular visitor to Yankee camps and clubhouses.
Those experiences parlayed into a fantastic high school career for Dunand at local South Florida baseball factory Gulliver Prep. He rounded out his high school career by going 10-12 with eight (yes, EIGHT) home runs in the 2014 Horizon National Tournament in Arizona. Those long balls all came in each of his final eight swings. The feat by Dunand caught national attention.
MLB scouts noticed. During the 2014 Draft, Dunand had his name called in the 35th round by the Cleveland Indians. He forewent the selection to honor his commitment to the University of North Carolina. In a three year career with the Wolfpack, Dunand enjoyed a standout career. In 178 games, he hit .268/.334/.476 with 29 homers. In between his sophomore and junior seasons, he had a .326/.372/.511, five homer showing in the wood bat Cape Cod League. In his final collegiate year, Dunand hit .287/.368/.632 with 18 homers.
In 2017, Dunand came to the Marlins as a second round draft pick. He forewent his senior year of college to sign with his hometown team. In his first full pro season in 2018, Dunand performed well making it up to AA in pretty short order. Between Jupiter and Jacksonville, he hit .239/.303/.380 with 14 homers and 70 RBIs. Joe spent all of 2019 in AA where he came back down to earth a bit after the big jump. In 130 games, he hit .242/.314/.333 with five homers and a 119/38 K/BB.
Dunand was approaching a big minor league season in 2020, one in which he hoped to prove he could produce consistent results against upper minors pitching. Then, the pandemic wiped the season out and Dunand was even left off of the Marlins’ 60-man player pool. But Joe made the most of the lost season and despite no on-field reps against other teams or his own organizational teammates, still made it quite possibly the biggest year of his baseball career. Dunand took the time off as an opportunity to reflect, put things into perspective and work to become the best version of himself.
“I’ve always had power since college. It was just more of how I was working in AA in 2019,” Dunand said. “I had a more opposite field approach; not really making a lot of good contact. This last year, during COVID, I really got to know myself and work on my swing, know my game and what I can do.”
In terms of adjustments that he’s made to get to this point, Dunand wouldn’t give away “all of his secrets” but he did recognize better repeatability in his approach and mechanics.
“There were a couple things that I worked on,” Dunand said. “I have more of a leg kick now. Before, it was a toe tap. I was just unsure of what I was doing, “Dunand said. “It’s more of a confidence in what I’m doing and how I feel most comfortable at the plate. Just being able to replicate what I’m doing.”
Through that process, as always, Dunand has kept his uncle close. According to Joe, his relationship with Tio Alex and the fact he is so kindred with such a valuable resource both personally and professionally continues to be unquantifiable in the growth of his career.
“It’s amazing,” Dunand said regarding his ability to consult with his uncle regularly. “I have an encyclopedia of one of the smartest people I have ever known. It’s a great tool to have. I talk to him as much as I can and be a sponge. It’s an opportunity that not many people have.”
When it was time to get in the field again in the DR this winter, Dunand was well prepared. In 72 ABs, he hit .319/.398/.542 with three homers including this one:
Marlins prospect Joe Dunand with the walk-off GRAND SLAM for Escogido!!!— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) December 5, 2020
Dude’s been unstoppable this winter 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/GHgaOTU3Fo
Regarding his 2020-21 winter ball experience, Dunand views the fact that he able to succeed and stick in such a competitive environment as the Dominican Winter League as advantageous in building his confidence.
“The DR is a very tough league. I’m very fortunate that I got a lot of playing time down there and I did well,” Dunand said. “Very passionate fans, tough league, tough competition. The more time you get to play down there, the better you get.”
With success came rewards and opportunities. Via his exports, Dunand got to spend ample time around further advanced players such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Gregory Polanco, an experience he was determined to make the most of.
“The biggest thing I picked up from them was their work ethic. Day in and day out, they would do their work, they would go through their routine and it never faltered,” Dunand said. “That was the first thing I noticed right off the bat. Having those good habits every single day when you come to the ballpark. That’s how you progress as a ballplayer.”
Another opportunity Dunand’s winter ball tenure unlocked: gaining versatility at a new defensive position. Blocked by Brian Anderson and others in the system that should move from middle infield to third base, the Marlins have continued to give Dunand reps at first base after he got in two games there this winter. Dunand said when informed, he welcomed the challenge and has worked hard to conquer it.
“I played the majority at third and then they had Vladdy Jr come down. To keep me in the lineup, they put me at first,” Dunand said. “I’ve been working on it a lot. The more I play it, I get more comfortable.”
More focused, more versatile and with the same unparalleled network around him, Dunand has been the talk of camp with the bat and the added versatility at first opens up some new doors. He should start 2021 at the ATS followed by his third stint in Jacksonville, this time the Marlins’ AAA affiliate. If he is able to build off his strong winter and spring, Dunand, who the Marlins protected from the AAA portion of the Rule 5 draft this offseason and who also has eligibility at shortstop, should get his first major league call sometime this season.