Hayden Dunhurst verbally committed to the University of Mississippi shortly after completing his freshman year at Pearl River Central High School in Mississippi in June 2016.
He doesn’t regret his choice. He describes the campus as “one of the most beautiful campuses there is.” The baseball coaching staff’s experience developing catchers for the professional ranks also factored into his decision, he added.
Dunhurst connected with the coaching staff throughout his conversations leading up to his commitment.
Mississippi head coach Mike Bianco played college baseball at Louisiana State as a catcher for two years. He has tutored 16 catchers who have signed pro contracts during his reign at Mississippi. The program’s two assistant coaches also were catchers during their playing careers.
“Their experience as catchers and history developing catchers really drew me to go there and improve my skills and mindset,” Dunhurst said.
It is an ideal fit for the Mississippi native. He’s eager about the opportunity but also realizes he may never play college baseball. Dunhurst is a well-regarded prospect for June’s MLB draft. Professional scouts project Dunhurst as a potential top-five round pick.
Even though the draft is rapidly approaching, Dunhurst is trying to avoid the attention associated with the process.
“It’s so unreal with the things I’ve been going through this senior year,” Dunhurst said. “You dream of going through something like this, but I never thought it’d be in my high school career. It’s a blessing from God that this is happening to me.”
Dunhurst has produced noteworthy offensive numbers throughout his four-year high school career. In 26 games, he’s hitting .368 with nine home runs, seven doubles and three triples in 76 at-bats this season. He also has drawn 31 walks while striking out nine times.
He started his baseball career as a left-handed hitter before developing into a switch-hitter at 9 years old. His father was throwing him batting practice in his batting cage at his home and had him try hitting from the right side of the plate. The experiment worked, and Dunhurst stuck with switch-hitting.
Dunhurst is more refined from the left side. He features more consistency and gap-to-gap power as a left-handed hitter.
He has a wide stance with a toe-tap timing mechanism and displays a compact and quick swing.
“I put good swings on the ball,” Dunhurst said. “I put the ball in play hard and make loud contact every time I can. Working the count and doing whatever I can to help the team win also are areas I try to focus on.”
Dunhurst takes pride in his defense behind the plate. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound backstop has a strong and accurate arm. He also has athleticism and an ability to come out of his crouch quickly.
“One of the biggest things I love to do is receiving,” Dunhurst said. “Also, throwing out runners and blocking. I take a lot of pride in everything defensively, and I try to be as polished as I can.”
He is calling pitches for the first time this season, after his coach handled the responsibility his first three years. He said it’s an area he’s grown at managing a pitching staff and has developed a better understanding for the pitching-calling process throughout the season.
With being a senior catcher, Dunhurst also has tried to improve his leadership skills this season.
“The biggest thing I have to develop in is being a vocal leader,” Dunhurst said. “I think I’ve taken a big step in it. I’ve always been the kind of guy where I put my head down and work. This year, I’m trying to realize that since I’m the catcher, everyone on the field is looking at me.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for four years. He’s interviewed 133 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.