EVERETT — Dylan Unsworth has had to make many adjustments in pursuit of his dream of the big leagues.
The Everett AquaSox pitcher had to adjust to growing up fast, beginning his professional career at the tender age of 17.
He had to adjust to a new culture, coming alone to the United States from his native South Africa.
And he had to adjust to playing against competition in a country where baseball is far higher on the food chain than in his home country.
But Unsworth’s biggest adjustment is still a work in progress.
“Probably his biggest adjustment now is fashion,” AquaSox pitching coach Rich Dorman said with a wry expression. “He’ll wear a pink shirt with pink shoes, and I’m sure he gets looked at going to the mall. I guess that’s cool in South Africa.”
Responded Unsworth, who also sports some flamboyant tattoos: “I get it from my teammates every day. But growing up I liked to match my clothes. If I’m wearing red shoes I’ve got to have a red T-shirt, red watch or something red to match. That’s just kind of my style. It makes me feel good.”
Unsworth’s pitching has made the Sox feel good, too.
Unsworth is part of Everett’s 1-2 teenage punch at the top of the rotation. Victor Sanchez has received the bulk of the attention because he’s just 17, but from a results standpoint the 19-year-old Unsworth has been equally effective.
Unsworth has been a picture of consistency for the Sox this season. In 12 starts the right-hander is 6-1 with a 3.91 ERA. In 711/3 innings he’s allowed 66 hits, 18 walks and struck out 56. He’s gone at least five innings in all but one of his starts. Going into the weekend he led the Northwest League in innings pitched and was tied for second in wins.
And Unsworth does it without blowing people away. The skinny 6-foot-1, 175-pound Unsworth has a modest fastball that sits in the mid-to-upper 80s. However, he paints the corners with it. As a result he gets as many called third strikes as anyone on Everett’s staff.
Dorman had no hesitation when asked the key to Unsworth’s effectiveness:
“Fastball command,” Dorman responded. “He’s always been able to command the strike zone. He throws a ton of strikes. He’s a competitor, he wants the baseball, he’s good at using his fastball on both sides of the plate, and he’s consistent.
“He’s exceeded our organization’s expectations,” Dorman added. “He’s been throwing the ball really well, he’s competing, and he’s staying healthy. He’s getting stronger. Typically 19-year-old kids would break down physically with so many innings, but he’s actually getting stronger as the season’s progressed. He’s done a great job.”
It’s been quite the journey to Everett for Unsworth.
Baseball is well down the list of popular sports in South Africa, far behind the likes of rugby, track and field, and swimming. Unsworth is just the second South African to appear for the AquaSox, following in the footsteps of shortstop Anthony Phillips, who played for Everett in 2008-10.
Unsworth played all those other sports while growing up, too, but he found himself drawn to baseball. He attended an academy in Italy when he was 16, then was selected to represent South Africa at the 2009 Baseball World Cup.
“When I was at the Italian academy a (Seattle) Mariners scout saw me there,” Unsworth said. “Two weeks later I got selected for the men’s South African side and pitched great at the World Cup. When I got back the Mariners scout was waiting with a contract, and here I am.”
After signing with the Mariners Unsworth packed up and headed to the states at 17.
“I didn’t finish school and my mom could see I just wanted to be living my dream,” Unsworth said.
“It was pretty tough my first and second year,” Unsworth added. “It was my first time out of the country, by myself, coming for seven or eight months to stay by myself. I was just adjusting to everything that’s different, house wise and the environment.”
But Unsworth settled in well on the field. His first season, playing for Seattle’s team in the rookie Arizona League in 2010, he had the distinction of walking just one batter in 501/3 innings. He struggled a little playing for Pulaski of the rookie Appalachian League last season, but still had a great control record with 10 walks in 61 innings, giving rise to the theory he was throwing too many strikes.
This season the walks are slightly up, but he’s having his best campaign.
“I feel like I’ve been doing a great job,” Unsworth said. “There’s been a few games where I’ve given up a few runs. But I’ve been throwing a lot of strikes, attacking the zone, getting outs and going long in games.”
And he’s even adjusted to living in the states — perhaps with the exception of the whole wardrobe thing.