LumberKings' Unsworth strong again

M's South African prospect drops ERA to 2.57 in fifth start

By Jake Seiner / Special to | May 4, 2013 7:35 PM ET

Coming out of Durban, South Africa, it should've been a little difficult for Dylan Unsworth to get noticed, but that's never really been an issue for the Mariners prospect.

The 6-foot-1 right-hander has a way of finding the spotlight. At times, it's because of his ostentatiously bright clothing -- he'll match shirts, shoes, watches, hats or anything else he can piece into an ensemble. When he pitches, his long, blond hair pokes out from under his cap and the ball comes out of a right arm swathed in a tattooed sleeve. When he speaks, well, his accent is a little unusual in Clinton County, Iowa.

Of late, his pitching lines are warranting attention, too.

On Saturday night, Unsworth struck out five and allowed two hits over six scoreless innings before Class A Clinton fell to Bowling Green, 3-2. The outing pulled his ERA down to 2.57 and was his third straight start without issuing a walk. Over 35 innings, he's struck out 22 batters and walked only two. And in his last three starts, he's allowed 29 hits with no home runs and is averaging 7 2/3 innings per outing.

"My fastball command has been good," Unsworth said. "My changeup was good and I was able to spin a few curveballs over and get a few groundouts."

Unsworth has made fairly consistent progress since signing with Seattle out of Durban at the age of 16. As a teenager, he pitched in a South African league with "maybe 10 teams." His squad practiced twice a week and played games on Saturdays.

The right-hander garnered the attention of the Major League Baseball European Academy, which invited him to a camp in Tirrenia, Italy in 2009. At the showcase, which featured 50 of the top prospects from Europe, New Zealand and Africa, Unsworth caught the eye of a Mariners scout.

Unsworth chatted with him but didn't sign, going straight from Italy to Barcelona for the Baseball World Cup, where he pitched for the South African National Team. Unbeknownst to Unsworth, the scout followed him to Spain and, when Unsworth returned to South Africa, the scout was waiting for him at the airport with a contract.

"It's a pretty amazing story," Unsworth said. "It's always been my dream to play pro baseball."

Seattle sent him to the Rookie-level Arizona League, where he posted an outrageous 44-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and surrendered just one homer in 50 1/3 innings. He went 2-5 with a 3.93 ERA in 11 games, including 10 starts.

"Coming from home, we played maybe every Saturday and had training twice a week," he said. "Here, I was training every day, playing every day and throwing every five days. Staying in a routine and staying healthy every day has been the key point for me."

In 2011, Seattle bumped him to the Appalachian League, where he suffered a few bruises, posting a 5.16 ERA over 61 innings. His stellar command remained a strength as he posted a 46-to-10 K/BB ratio but allowed 73 hits.

Last year, he moved up to the short-season Northwest League, where he went 7-2 with a 3.90 ERA. He led the league with 85 1/3 innings and ranked third in wins and fourth with 67 strikeouts against 19 walks.

Unsworth was exceptionally raw coming out of South Africa and most of his repertoire has been a work-in-progress over the past three-plus seasons. This year, he's noticed an uptick in the velocity of his fastball, which routinely sits in the 87-89 mph range with excellent command to both sides of the plate. He took to throwing a changeup with relative ease and can execute the offering in the strike zone consistently.

Learning to harness an effective breaking ball has been a tougher task and is one of his main goals this season.

"The curveball, it's always been a little bit of a struggle for me," he said. "I just need to keep being better with the curveball and throwing it for strikes. With two strikes, I'm trying to make use of it and keep it down."

Unsworth pitched last September in World Baseball Classic qualifiers alongside a handful of big league prospects hoping to become the first South African to play in the Majors -- Indians No. 17 prospect Kieran Lovegrove is the most notable.

Unsworth has a ways to go before he gets a shot at a big league roster. If his velocity continues to inch up and he can develop his off-speed offerings, he could lay claim to that title. For now, however, continued dominance in the Midwest League is a good start.

"I'm a starting pitcher coming from a background where I didn't have that much," he acknowledged. "I'm just going along with it every day, trying to have fun."

Jake Seiner is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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