A Conversation With New York Yankees Prospect Elijah Dunham

Elijah Dunham had a promising first professional season in the New York Yankees system. Signed as a non-drafted free agent following 2020’s COVID-shortened five-round draft, the 23-year-old Indiana University product slashed .263/.362/.463 with 13 home runs in 395 plate appearances between Low-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley. He proceeded to rake in the Arizona Fall League. In 101 plate appearances with the Surprise Saguaros, the left-handed hitting Dunham went deep twice while slashing a stand-up-and-take-notice .357/.465/.571.

Dunham — an Honorable Mention on our newly-released Yankees Top Prospects list — discussed his disappointing draft-day experience, and the developmental strides he’s made since entering pro ball, late in the Arizona Fall League season.

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David Laurila: What were your conversations with teams leading into the draft?

Elijah Dunham: “A handful of [scouts] told me they were probably going to take me in the fourth or the fifth. My agent thought I was probably going to go somewhere in the fifth. But then, when draft day rolled around, he called and said ‘Hey, I think we fell out.’ In my mind, I was like, ‘There’s no way.’ But it happened.”

Laurila: Did your agent get calls on draft day, asking if you’d sign for X amount if you were taken in whatever round?

Dunham: “I didn’t even talk to my agent about it, because I was pretty distraught. But I had one call come straight to me, from the area scout, with their pick coming up. He asked if I’d take so-and-so amount, and I said, ‘Yeah, definitely.’ It just never happened.”

Laurila: Which team was that?

Dunham: “I don’t want to name the team, but it definitely hurt me, because I thought it was going to happen. I was with my family — we were watching the draft on TV — and they were in the room when I got the call. I kind of knew going into the draft that I probably needed to start my professional career — I felt like I was at a good point in my development — so I made the decision that I’d be signing somewhere.”

Laurila: How much interest did the Yankees show prior to the draft?

Dunham: “They told us, ‘Hey, if we had a fifth-round pick this year, we would take you in the fifth.’ They probably told other guys the same thing, but I nonetheless knew that they had showed interest. I also have a friend who coached me at IU coaching for the Yankees — Casey Dykes was their Triple-A hitting coach last year — so I knew a little bit about the org from him. And I love Casey Dykes, so it was an easy decision for me.”

Laurila: Teams were allowed to reach out to non-drafted players a few days after the draft concluded. How many calls did you get on Day One?

Dunham: “There were quite a few. I had a bunch of Zoom meetings, and we kind of got it down to three teams. But again, the Yankees were the team to go to, especially to start off your career. I want to play with the Yankees, obviously — I want to play for the big league ball club — but at the same time, they’ve got great players who are already there. But from a development standpoint, the Yankees have a supreme development system for the minor leaguers. I was like, ‘If I want to be the best player I can be, I’ve got to go to the Yankees.’”

Laurila: With development in mind, who are you as a hitter?

Dunham: “I have pop, but that’s not my end goal. This wave of only home runs, and also a lot of strikeouts… I mean, I like home runs, don’t get me wrong when I say that. But at the same time, making consistent contact and getting on base is my ultimate goal. That’s what I strive to be. I want to be a player who is going to help the team win, and getting on base a lot is going to allow me do that.”

Laurila: What about adjustments? If I compared film of you today with film of you at Indiana, would I see the same hitter?

Dunham: “You’d see the same swing. My stance — my structure and my posture — would probably be the biggest [change]. I used to be really down low in college, and now I stand a little higher up. I feel like that allows me to access some of the pop I do have. Back in college, I wasn’t really a home run threat, I was more of a hitter who was going to spray the ball around the field. Over COVID, they stood me up a little bit more and helped me access my pull side a little bit better.”

Laurila: Were you happy with your season?

Dunham: “I thought I had a really good year for my first year. At the same time, there were learning phases I went through. I’ve never played so many games in my life, so there was a definitely a mental toll at some points. But that was for the best, because of what I learned from it.”

Laurila: What about on the defensive side of the ball?

Dunham: “I’ve gotten so much better defensively, thanks to the Yankees. Before, I was just going to make the routine plays, and that was it. I was playing first at IU and now I’m in the outfield. I’ll go make a play here and there, too. I’m not saying I’m like a Gold Glove guy, but at the same time, I’m definitely going to steal a hit or two once in a while.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts?

Dunham: “If you were to ask me what I bring to the game, I’d say that it’s my competitiveness. I try not to give away any at-bats. That’s something I take pride in. I bring the same fire every single day.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Anselm
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Anselm

Thanks for this interview — really interesting to hear the perspective of an undrafted minor league player — and to hear that he thinks of the Yankees as having a strong minor league development system in place as he imagines what his place can be in the game skills-wise. I’ve been a Yankees fan since I went to a game as a 7 year old in 1979. I’ll be rooting for Elijah Dunham to make it to the majors.