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2016 MLB Draft: Nationals' draft pick Dane Dunning excited to start, expects to sign quickly

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With their second of back-to-back selections on the first day of the 2016 MLB Draft, the Washington Nationals selected University of Florida right-hander Dane Dunning. Dunning, 21, told reporters today that he thought he'd sign quickly...

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Nationals' Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Operations Kris Kline told reporters on Thursday night that he had been following Dane Dunning for a long time before the Nationals made the 21-year-old righty the 29th overall pick in the first round of the 2016 Draft.

"Our history goes back all the way to the high school," Kline said. "Unsignable at that time and ended up going to the University of Florida."

"It was very humbling and it was a little difficult at the same time, cause I mean everyone is fighting for a job and everyone wants to start..." -Dane Dunning on ending up working out of the pen with Florida

In his junior year with the Gators, Dunning worked mostly in relief, going (5-3) in 29 games, with five starts, two saves and a 2.50 ERA in 68 ⅓ IP, over which he walked 11 batters (1.45 BB/9), and struck out 78 (10.27 K/9).

Having drafted him, however, Kline said the Nationals intended to using Dunning as a starter.

"Definitely going to develop him as a starter. He's coming from one of the best college staffs is baseball right now.

"Dane, if he was at another program, he easily would have been the Friday night starter for 95% of the other teams in the country.

"Unfortunately for him he was in a logjam of really talented guys including some underclassmen and ended up assuming the Tuesday night starting role and worked out of the bullpen and [was] kind of the mercenary there.

"We're going to develop him as a starter. He has a really good delivery and some really good stuff."

In a conference call on Friday afternoon, Dunning told reporters he was excited about being selected where he was and he said he was looking forward to the opportunity to return to a starting role.

"I've always wanted to be a starter my whole entire life," Dunning said. "Coming out of the bullpen -- either way, I'm really happy with any decision, but being able to start, it's a dream come true."

Being part of an impressive staff at Florida, however, he said he understood and accepted the role he ended up in this season.

"I loved every bit of it. Being a part of a team where we have such an unbelievable pitching staff this year."

"It was very humbling and it was a little difficult at the same time, cause I mean everyone is fighting for a job and everyone wants to start or stuff like that.

"So it was a little difficult at the start of the year, just finding a role, but once I tend to discover my role as coming out of the bullpen for the team, everything kind of fell into place as it should.

"My fastball has got a lot of life to it. It's one of my better -- it's not one of my better, it's probably my best pitch I can throw. I have good run to my fastball, it sinks usually 4-6 inches..." -Dane Dunning discussing his stuff with reporters on Friday

"I mean, I love the experience that I got from going here, I was able to start and come out of the pen so I got a little taste of both and I absolutely loved it."

The experience isn't over yet either, as Dunning and his Gators teammates are still alive in the fight to make it to the College World Series.

Asked about his repertoire at this point, the righty said it was all about his fastball.

"My fastball has got a lot of life to it," Dunning explained.

"It's one of my better -- it's not one of my better, it's probably my best pitch I can throw. I have good run to my fastball, it sinks usually 4-6 inches the majority of the time, and it sits right around -- lately I've been sitting about 94-95, I was touching [97] here or there, but it helps when it comes with my offspeed.

"If I can locate offspeed as well as I should, then my fastball plays up higher, in my opinion, just being able to get people off my fastball so then when I do throw my fastball it's a lot more effective."

Finishing out his junior year and enjoying the competition allowed Dunning to avoid thinking about the draft until the last few days, but once he's done for the season, he has an important decision to make.

Kline told reporters last night, after the Nationals' top three selections of the draft, that he was confident something would be worked out with the Nats' picks.

"I feel very confident that we'll end up getting them all done before the deadline, yes," Kline said.

Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo talked on Friday night in the nation's capital about the risks involved.

"They're all risks until you have their name on the dotted line," he said. "We feel confident. We drafted each guy to sign them, so hopefully that can come to fruition and we can get them all done."

The recommended slot value for the 29th pick was $2,034,600.

Dunning was asked if he thought he would sign quickly?

"Yes, sir. I do," he said politely. "I've still got to finish out my season and hopefully be able to go to the College World Series."