By John Dundon
Look out, Long Island, the Mets are poaching our young baseball players right out from under us.
With their first two picks in this June’s Major League Baseball draft, the reigning National League champs drafted a pair of LI natives. The Mets selected Boston College right-handed pitcher and Freeport native Justin Dunn with the 19th overall pick, and promptly used their 31st selection to acquire lefty Anthony Kay of Stony Brook, who played college ball at the University of Connecticut.
They both inked million-dollar-plus contracts before the signing deadline.
If all goes according to plan, the Mets’ pitching staff, if not its starting rotation, could one day feature a trio of hometown heroes. For Long Islanders, their dream roster would also include Stony Brook-native Steven Matz, who contributed immediately after being called up by the organization late last season.
But a lot has to happen before they take the mound.
Dunn, 20, and Kay, 21, were never teammates but they share similar qualities, according to their respective youth coaches and family members interviewed by the Press. On the diamond they exhibited strong, youthful arms, their coaches said. Off the field Dunn and Kay endeared themselves to teammates and friends, despite their star status. But do they have what it takes to make the majors and be successful? Those close to the hurlers will tell you the answer is a resounding “yes!”
“[Kay’s] not fazed by anything; the bigger the game, the better he pitches. It’ll be a quick rise to the big leagues,” Ward Melville High School head baseball coach Lou Petrucci told the Press about his former pupil.
Petrucci is no stranger to big arms, having also coached the lefty Matz. The Mets promoted Matz, then 24, to the majors last June, and the organization—and the fans—could not have been more thrilled. Matz contributed immediately, posting a 4-0 record and earning a spot in the playoff rotation. Not to forget his hitting a two-run double his first at-bat in the first game he pitched at Citi Field. Which he also won.
Kay will most certainly draw comparisons to Matz.
— New York Mets (@Mets) June 10, 2016
“They both possess elite mechanics, competitive drive and God-given ability,” Petrucci said. “Those are three things you need to succeed at the next level.”
Of the two, Petrucci added, Kay had a more distinguished high school baseball career.
— New York Mets (@Mets) July 13, 2016
Matz has become an idol to Long Island ball players of late. Like Kay, Matz doesn’t possess an over-powering arm. He instead relies on a precise fastball and off-speed pitches that tend to make batters look silly at the plate.
Although Matz and Kay didn’t attend high school at the same time, the imprint left behind by the current Mets pitcher through the halls of Ward Melville High School has been long lasting.
“We’re pretty friendly,” Kay said of Matz during a conference call with reporters after he was drafted. “We talk all the time. We go back in the winter all the time to high school (for clinics). It will be really cool to work with him.”
Kay signed a lower than expected deal this month after a post-draft physical prompted concerns about his elbow, according to reports. The pitcher has not yet been assigned to a minor league affiliate.
— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) July 13, 2016
Ready for the bright lights
Like Kay, Dunn also played ball in Connecticut.
While he was born and raised in Freeport, Dunn attended high school at The Gunnery, a co-ed private school in Washington, Conn.
Dunn’s coach at The Gunnery, Jeff Trundy, said the pitcher is an “outgoing kid” who was beloved by everyone on campus. He sounded confident that Dunn’s skills will translate to the majors.
“It was pleasing to watch Justin’s growth during his time at the Gunnery,” Trundy told the Press. “He developed tremendously both on the ball field and socially.”
— Justin Dunn (@Dunn_Deal19) June 21, 2016
Dunn’s diminutive frame as a freshman—5-feet, 5-inches tall and weighing in at 110-pounds—was not a deterrent on the mound. (Dunn was listed at 6-feet, 2-inches tall this past season at Boston College.)
“Even though he was tiny and shy,” Trundy said, “he never lacked confidence on the baseball field.”
According to the people who know them best, both Dunn and Kay are outstanding.
“Justin has a very intense internal drive, but he’s always put his teammates before himself,” Trundy said. “That right there shows who Justin is and shows why the New York fans are going to love him so much.”
What about Kay?
“He was the first guy out of the dugout to embrace the guys after an inning, or when someone made a big play,” said Petrucci, Kay’s high school coach. “That’s the kind of kid he is. One of the highest character individuals I ever coached.”
This past season at Boston College, Dunn posted an ERA of 2.06 and struck out 72 batters in 65.2 innings pitched. A coach’s decision moved Dunn from the bullpen to a starting role midway through last season. That’s when he took off.
“All he cares about is helping the team win,” said Mike Gambino, his coach at BC.
A baseball ‘hotbed’
During his own conference call with reporters, Dunn spoke about Long Island as a baseball hotbed for talent.
“A lot of people think Long Island can’t play baseball, but look at the track record. You have Marcus [Stroman], and then you have Steven Matz, and they’re doing pretty well in the league,” Dunn said. Stroman, who was raised in Medford, was drafted with the 22nd pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2012 draft. He is considered a future ace.
“You have guys like Keith Osik that have played, and other guys,” Dunn added, referring to the former MLB catcher. “This is something that should be known—that Long Island can play. I’m just happy to have my little part of it.”
Ed Dunn, Justin’s father, shares that sentiment. He had high praise for Long Island’s little league and travel baseball systems.
“What you’re seeing now with more kids playing is the culmination of the year-round travel programs, the coaches who are some of the best in the country,” the senior Dunn said. “Long Island can produce.”
Ed Dunn, a lifelong Yankees fan, was obviously ecstatic to see his son drafted, even if it was to the crosstown rival.
“I prepared myself for it. We knew they (the Mets) had interest,” Dunn recalled. “At the end of the day, it’s awesome no matter what.”
Dunn made his first professional start with the Mets’ minor league affiliate, the Brooklyn Cyclones, on July 23.
Now the hard work begins.