One of the stars of last summer at Old Mountain Field is bound for the professional ranks.
Elijah Dunham, the top hitter for the 2019 Ocean State Waves, signed a free agent contract with the New York Yankees last week.
“After much consideration of what is best for my baseball career I have decided to sign a deal with the New York Yankees,” Dunham wrote 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.”
A star at Indiana University, Dunham was not selected in this year’s Major League Baseball Draft, which was shortened to five rounds from the usual 40 due to the coronavirus pandemic. He likely would have been picked in a typical draft, and was on the radar even for this one, ranked 186th on Baseball America’s top 200 draft prospects. One hundred and sixty players were drafted.
In the 2019 draft, seven former Waves heard their names called. None were selected in this draft, but the free agent deal for Dunham gets another Ocean State alumnus to the professional ranks. Two former Waves, Mike Gerber and Richard Lovelady, made their Major League debuts in recent years.
“We couldn’t be more proud of him for getting this opportunity,” said Waves president and general manager Eric Hirschbein-Bodnar, adding that a few more Waves have a chance at free agent deals.
Dunham batted .360 for the Waves last summer, with six home runs and 27 RBI. He was the first player in franchise history from a Big Ten Conference school, and he earned NECBL All-Star honors. Dunham also played in the league in 2018 for the Plymouth Pilgrims, and two multi-hit games in the playoffs against the Waves stuck in the memory of the opposition.
“He tormented us in the playoffs,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “When we heard he was available, we jumped all over that, knowing the type of player he was and the type of program he was coming from. We knew he would be a power bat in the middle of the lineup. What we didn’t realize was what a role model and leader he would be.”
Last year, Dunham came to Wakefield having been picked in the 40th round of the draft as a draft-eligible sophomore. He opted to return to school after a summer of hard work. He was batting .390 through 15 games for the Hoosiers in the spring when the season was canceled.
“He took it to the next level last summer, working out, training, doing early work in the cage with [coach Pete Clays],” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “You look at what he was doing and you’re saying, ‘This is what a pro does.’”
The NECBL had eight players drafted, and more than a dozen others have signed free agent contracts since. Jared Shuster of Wake Forest, who played for the league’s New Bedford Bay Sox in 2018, was selected in the first round, becoming the 29th NECBL alumnus to be picked in the first round. The Newport Gulls paced NECBL teams with five selections, led by Hudson Haskin in the second round.
“Given the circumstances and the adversity that not only our league but each and every summer collegiate baseball league has had to endure this season, we could not be more proud of each and every one of our alumni that were either drafted or signed as free agents after this past weekend,” NECBL Commissioner Sean McGrath said. “No doubt we will continue to see more familiar faces do similarly in the days and weeks ahead, but regardless, I am so thrilled for all the young men who have been rewarded for their hard work and dedication not only during their time in the New England League but throughout their collegiate careers, both on the diamond and in the classroom. The best of luck to each of them as they pursue the first chapter of what will hopefully be long professional baseball careers.”
With the minor league season in limbo, Dunham and fellow NECBL alums who are headed for pro ball may have to wait a bit for their debuts, but Waves coaches will be watching whenever Dunham gets on the field.
“We’re happy for him and we’re not surprised,” Hirschbein-Bodnar said. “I’m excited to see the next step in the journey. Hopefully we see him the Bronx, hitting home runs over the short porch in right field.”