Despite not having a player selected in the very abbreviated 2020 MLB Draft back on June 10 and 11, the IU baseball program will lose at least one player to the professional ranks this offseason.
On Wednesday, IU junior Elijah Dunham announced that he has signed with the New York Yankees as an undrafted free agent. Typically, players in Dunham’s position head back to school if they don’t get drafted, as he still had eligibility remaining. But with this year’s draft being shortened to five rounds instead of the usual 40, there are many players who would’ve been drafted any other year opting to turn pro as free agents.
“After much consideration of what is best for my baseball career I have decided to sign a deal with the New York Yankees,” Dunham said on Twitter. “It’s time for me to take my opportunity and bet on myself. I’m extremely confident in my abilities and know the Yankees can continue to develop them at the highest level.”
He has every reason to be confident. After seeing some playing time as a a freshman and suffering an injury ahead of his sophomore year, Dunham became a crucial piece of the IU lineup in 2019. In 42 starts he hit a team-best .310 with eight home runs and 29 runs batted in, earning third-team All-Big Ten honors and getting drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th round of the 2019 MLB Draft.
This season, he was tabbed as one of the top players in the Big Ten ahead of the season and ranked as D1Baseball.com’s 39th-best hitter nationally as well as the site’s 11th-best Big Ten prospect in the 2020 Draft. In the 15 games that the Hoosiers played before the season was canceled, Dunham crushed. He hit .390 with a team-high seven doubles, one home run and 11 RBIs. He also had a team-high on-base percentage of .493, as well.
When the Hoosiers traveled to Mobile, Alabama for the South Alabama Invitational, the junior went 7-for-11 with a pair of doubles, a home run and three RBIs to earn Big Ten Player of the Week honors.
Dunham will join former IU volunteer assistant coach Casey Dykes in the New York system. Dykes left Bloomington after the 2019 season to serve as a minor league hitting coach for the Yankees and was tabbed to coach with the Class Single-A Charleston Riverdogs of the South Atlantic League in 2020.
Other former Hoosier players to find their way to the Yankees system in recent years include Christian Morris, Isaiah Pasteur and Wes Wilson.
If Dunham had returned to Bloomington he once again would’ve been one of the Big Ten’s top hitters, but in his absence the Hoosiers should have tons of options in the outfield. Grant Richardson, Ethan Vecrumba and Hunter Jessee all saw some regular playing time before this past season was canceled, Tyler Van Pelt could work his way onto the field more often, the ever-versatile Drew Ashley played his fair share of the outfield in 2019 and incoming freshmen like Tyler Nelson and Kip Fougerousse could factor in as well.
It’s hard to say where Dunham will be assigned first as a pro because of the lack of insight as to when, where, how or if professional baseball will begin play this summer, but if things were business as normal he’d likely make his way to one of the Bombers’ Gulf Coast League teams or perhaps the Pulaski Yankees, their rookie-level affiliate. The Short-Season A Staten Island Yankees wouldn’t be out of reach either.
Update: Dunham’s first professional assignment will be in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League with the GCL Yankees East. The GCL teams are the Yankees’ bottom-tier affiliates for stateside prospects, so it seems like the team might not want to push its new acquisitions right off the bat since they haven’t played a real game in months. It’s still unclear as to whether or not there will be Minor League Baseball this year and whether or not that will affect the GCL, an operation run out of the MLB Spring Training complexes, is another question entirely. If Dunham hits well whenever he gets on the field, his next step toward the Bronx would likely be either the Pulaski Yankees of the rookie-level Appalachian League or the Staten Island Yankees of the short-season A New York-Penn League.