After developing into an MLB draft prospect, Ute star Oliver Dunn will be missed in multiple ways

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Oliver Dunn denies a second base steal attempt by Danny Gelalich as Utah and BYU renew their rivalry on the baseball diamond as they battle it out at Smith's Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.

Nothing about Oliver Dunn’s steady improvement in three seasons as Utah’s second baseman is surprising to Chris Shelton, who witnessed Dunn’s growth in Cottonwood High School’s program.

That’s why Shelton confidently predicts Dunn’s pro baseball career will unfold the same way, as he adjusts to the next phase. “It’ll be just like his time at the U.,” said Shelton, a Cottonwood assistant coach who spent parts of five seasons in the major leagues after playing for Utah.

That forecast is getting only slightly ahead of the story. Dunn is expected to be picked reasonably high in this week’s Major League Baseball draft. He’s likely to turn pro after a junior season in which he made the All-Pac-12 first team and Collegiate Baseball’s All-America third team — only the fourth player in the program’s history to be recognized by the publication.

“Personally, I’m ready, from a preparation standpoint,” Dunn said when Utah’s season ended May 25. “I like to think I’m there. It’ll be an exciting process.”


Monday, 5 p.m. – Rounds 1-2, MLB Network and MLB.com

Tuesday, 11 a.m. – Rounds 3-10, MLB.com

Wednesday, 10 a.m. – Rounds 11-40, MLB.com

The Utes went 16-33 overall and 6-24 in the Pac-12, finishing 10th among 11 teams. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound infielder hardly could have done more for his team, though. His batting average went from .250 to .319 to .366 in three seasons, while he played in all 155 games (all but two as a starter) and led the team in multiple offensive categories as a junior.

“Spectacular,” Ute coach Bill Kinneberg said, reviewing Dunn’s season, “and I’m not just talking about the numbers.”

Kinneberg continued, “He’s the epitome of the ballplayer that I want — gritty, plays hard … loves to be on the field. All those things are intangibles that make Ollie really special. We’re going to miss him. Somebody’s going to have to replace that; not only the numbers, but the way he went about it from day one of his freshman year to this year. It was really fun to watch.”

That's what teammate Chris Diehl told Dunn in the Smith's Ballpark tunnel after the Utes' last game. “Great career,” he said. “It's been a pleasure to watch you play.”

Same story at Cottonwood, except that Dunn didn't play regularly for the Colts' varsity as a sophomore on a senior-heavy team. He found spots in the infield as a junior and played shortstop as a senior, while impressing Shelton with his rare level of baseball savvy. “He had a great approach at the plate, and he would never change,” Shelton said. “He always had a plan. You don't see that with a 16-, 17-year-old guy.”

As he watched Dunn play at Utah, Shelton said, “You could see the learning curve come fast with him. It doesn’t surprise me. He knows what he’s doing.”

Dunn was disappointed with Utah's season, amid his own success. “Personally, I was happy with it, for sure,” he said. “It's still tough, though. Winning is more fun than anything individual. That part wasn't what we wanted, but the group showed a lot of grit.”

From the start in fall 2016 to the presumed finish this spring, Dunn exemplified that trait in three years as a Ute.