SALT LAKE CITY — Simply put, second baseman Oliver Dunn has been getting it done for the Utah Utes.
The junior from Cottonwood High has been a bright spot for a squad that has gotten off to a rough start (3-12) in Pac-12 play. In last week’s series opener against USC, Dunn made his 130th collegiate start. He also did so riding an 18-game hitting streak.
Although the latter came to an end, Dunn continues to rank among the Pac-12 leaders in numerous categories. Excluding Tuesday’s nonconference game with Utah Valley, Dunn has a .353 batting average with 41 hits, a .449 on-base percentage, 31 runs scored, a .578 slugging percentage, 14 doubles and three triples.
Dunn has started all but two games in his Utah career and earned honorable mention all-conference honors last season.
Utah coach Bill Kinneberg anticipated that Dunn would be a special guy for the Utes.
“It’s been one of those deals where you think that this kid is going to be good and he’s turned out to be good,” said Kinneberg, who added that Dunn has worked hard in the weight room and has done well in everything, including school.
“It’s all worked out,” Kinneberg said. “And it’s been great for him.”
So much so, in fact, that Dunn is now a “draftable guy.” This year’s Major League Baseball Draft is set for June 3-5.
Although those days are fast approaching, Dunn is determined to focus on the task at hand and approach each game the same way.
“I try not to think about it just because we’ve got bigger things to worry about right now — like trying to turn this around and get back in the win column,” Dunn said. “But it’s something that I always wanted to do. It’s definitely something I’ve thought about before, but I try to keep it off my mind while we’re playing and stuff. So it’ll just be kind of a process that as it happens it happens.”
The process, Dunn noted, is always such a funny process and you never know what’s going to happen. As such, his plan is to play as well as he can, do all he can to put himself in the right position and help the Utes win games.
Dunn isn’t going to let what round he's drafted in determine his future. It just needs to feel right. If not, he can keep competing with another year of college ball remaining.
“It’s a win-win either way,” Dunn said,
Kinneberg acknowledged that many players are able to get some good money after their junior years. Seniors, after all, sign no matter what.
“But I think the juniors have to really analyze where they were drafted and are they ready mentally to go do this,” he said. “It’s an individual decision.”
At the U., Kinneberg explained that they just try to counsel players on whether they’re physically and mentally ready.
“Mentally more than physically because after their junior year they’re probably physically ready to go,” he said. “Then you start talking about the rounds a little bit and where they fit in.”
That includes making sure draftees are able to finish college at some point — something that’s included in their contract — and that they’ve got all their options available to them.
Dunn, though, isn’t speaking much about pro baseball at this time — aside from noting he’s always kind of liked the Atlanta Braves (but isn’t a diehard) and is a fan of players like Mike Trout, Scooter Gennett and Whit Merrifield.
It’s all about Utah baseball right now. Although he originally committed to Seattle University, he ultimately opted to play for the Utes because it allowed him to stay home and play in the Pac-12, and it just felt right.
Getting more wins, now, is his first and foremost priority. Dunn admits it's been tough because the Utes were playing really good baseball before conference play started. Pac-12 contests, he added, have been frustrating because they felt they were in all the games and one inning flipped things.
“It’s been real tough, but on the personal side of things, I’ve been trying to do whatever I can to help us win and so I’d just like to continue doing that,” Dunn said. “Whatever happens I hope we can rattle some out and do something fun and make a run and see if we can’t make the postseason. So that’s the goal.”
The Utes took two of three from USC last weekend and open a series with Arizona State Thursday at Smith’s Ballpark.