Joe Dunand has shown a knack for hitting home runs much like his uncle at every level so far.
He once hit nine homers in only five games in high school.
As a sophomore in college, Dunand hit six at the College World Series Home Run Derby in Omaha.
And while playing with the Miami Marlins’ major league team in March, Dunand hit one against the Yankees that would have easily cleared the left field wall at Yankee Stadium — the same place his uncle finished his legendary career.
But Dunand doesn’t worry about any expectations that have come with being Alex Rodriguez’s nephew.
“If I was trying to be like him or compare myself to him, I’d get myself in trouble,” Dunand said. “He’s a once in a lifetime talent. I just have to be myself.
Dunand is not the type to reference his famous uncle in conversation nor does he brag about being related to one of the top five greatest home run hitters of all time to his teammates or the media.
“He always seemed like an even keel guy,” said Marlins outfield prospect Brian Miller, a former college rival at North Carolina. “You would never know the A-Rod stuff. He’s not going to go around showing that. I’m sure it could be a bit stressful or annoying having people asking him about it all the time. But he really does a good job handling all of that.
The physical similarities are undeniable, however.
He sounds like A-Rod in both his voice and the mature way he talks about baseball like someone beyond his years.
He looks like A-Rod already at 6-2, 205 pounds, not far off from Rodriguez’s roughly 6-3, 230-pound frame in his prime.
His smooth, even swing reminds many of his uncle’s signature follow through. Dunand, 22, wears the No. 3 on his jersey — the same number Rodriguez wore with the Mariners and Rangers early in his career.
“My uncle and I are very close,” Dunand said. “Being able to learn so much from him since I was a baby has been a tremendous benefit for me and I’m just blessed and lucky to have him. One thing I’ve always noticed about him was his work ethic. He’s always working hard and doing the right things and I’ve always carried that my whole life.
While Dunand has broken in as a shortstop, many scouts and Marlins management believe Dunand will likely transition to third base where his power hitting, strong arm and defensive skills will flourish.
Rodriguez opened his career as a shortstop before moving over to third once he was traded to the Yankees in 2004 to play alongside current Marlins CEO Derek Jeter.
“We just felt he was a very complete player,” said Marlins President of Baseball Operations Michael Hill. “He has good bat control, above-average knowledge of the strike zone, with power. That’s what we’ve seen from day one."
Dunand, rated the Marlins’ No. 16 prospect overall by MLBPipeline.com, got a taste of the big leagues in the spring and has since continued to hit home runs with seven so far this season at Jupiter.
There’s been more to Dunand than the power stroke, however.
Although he has struggled at times in his first year in Jupiter (.260 average through Monday), Dunand has been an excellent run producer with a team-high 41 RBI and 33 runs scored.
“I just wanted to come in with the mindset of getting better every single day and progress my abilities,” Dunand said. “I know I’m good enough to play in the big leagues one day so just come with the mindset every day of getting better.
Rodriguez, who hit 696 home runs (fourth all-time in MLB history), was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 amateur draft when he signed with the Seattle Mariners.
Dunand wasn’t as hyped by scouts, with the Marlins taking him with the 51st pick in the second round of last year’s draft after playing three seasons at N.C. State University.
But his maturity and work ethic, something Dunand said he learned from growing up around Rodriguez, is what many think separates him from most and could result in a bright major-league future.
The Marlins invited Dunand and over two dozen young players in their system before spring training to their “Captain’s Camp,” a three-week orientation program that outlined the organization’s standards and goals for the future.
“I think he’s ready for this stage,” said Marlins’ third baseman Martin Prado. “He got better defensively and just got good at-bats all the time. When you see a guy like that, that young, having that approach and that mentality, it just means he’s ready to play in the big leagues.
Dunand started hearing the comparisons to Rodriguez since he began playing baseball at Kendall Boys and Girls Club.
He grew up with Rodriguez throwing batting practice to him at times and constantly hanging out in clubhouses where he interacted with many of his uncle’s famous teammates including Jeter.
Those experiences are helping him learn how to handle himself as a pro baseball player.
“He’s a true pro, playing above his age,” Jupiter manager Kevin Randel said. “He’s very quiet in the field. His at-bats are very professional and he doesn’t let anything get to him. He’s got a good [batting] cage routine and he’s outstanding in the clubhouse with the guys. He’s what you want as a manager.
Dunand drew national attention in the spring of 2014 when he went on his nine home run barrage at the Horizon National Tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dunand was drafted in the 35th round by the Cleveland Indians that summer but signed with N.C. State, where he hit 29 home runs and finished with 132 RBI over the next three years.
“The way he goes about his business is truly impressive,” Randel said. “Everything he does is advanced. Consistently his at-bats have been among the best I’ve seen in a long time.”
Rodriguez told reporters last year that watching his nephew get drafted by the Marlins was one of the highlights of his life.
The next big moment figures to be whenever Dunand makes his major-league breakthrough. That could still be at least a year or two away, with the Marlins showing patience in developing their top prospects.
His solid season in Jupiter could prompt the Marlins to promote him to Double A Jacksonville later this season.
But while the Marlins aren’t necessarily counting on Dunand to be the next Rodriguez, they believe he will be an important part of the franchise’s future.
“Outside of his talent, his temperament is really professional,” Miller said. “He’s humble and this is going to be ‘his’ career and he’s a good baseball player himself. That’s going to show in the future.”