Top Mets prospect is showing cracks — but baseball legend can help

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One night after perhaps the biggest day of his career — when he was picked by the Mets in the first round of the 2016 amateur draft last June — Justin Dunn had another surprise coming.

The slightly built, right-handed pitcher went to dinner with his parents and battery-mate from Boston College, Nick Sciortino — whom the Red Sox had picked in the 17th round.

“We were in Miami playing in the Super Regionals [of the NCAA Tournament], so I didn’t go to the draft,” said Dunn, who grew up in Freeport on Long Island. “We walked into the restaurant and my dad said, ‘Did you see who was sitting outside?’ ”

It was Pedro Martinez, after whom Dunn had modeled himself as a teenager.

“My buddy got drafted by the Red Sox and I got picked by the Mets, and there was the guy who was the face of both of those teams at one time sitting right there,” Dunn said recently in Port St. Lucie, where he is playing for the Mets’ Class-A squad. “Once I mustered up the courage, I went up and talked to him and he said he knew who I was because he had watched the draft. I just picked his brain, and he told me a lot of pitching is mental, which I learned quickly.”

The learning process has continued for the 21-year-old, who has had an inconsistent season with St. Lucie.

After showing considerable promise with short-season Brooklyn last season, Dunn struggled for most of his first seven starts at St. Lucie — going 1-3 with a 6.89 ERA.

Though the Mets continued to believe his future was as a starter, his next three appearances came out of the bullpen, where he pitched well and earned his way back into the rotation — giving up just one in 11 innings of relief.

Since then, Dunn has been better — 1-2 with a 3.52 ERA over six starts — but one NL scout who watched him recently came away unimpressed.

“He didn’t show me any top-of-the-rotation stuff,” the scout said. “He’s got a good slider, but didn’t have an out pitch, and there’s not a lot of life on his fastball. He’s athletic, but as a college kid, he should be more dominant in this league.”

Dunn and 2016 third-round pick Blake Tiberi last year.Paul J. Bereswill

Dunn, though, is focused on the present.

“My problem earlier this year was that I was thinking about the big picture and getting myself out of here as quick as I can,” Dunn said. “I just wanted to get to the next level. When you do that, you lose track of what you’re here for. You don’t take advantage of the learning opportunities. You have to be able to make adjustments, so lately I’ve been in the moment.”

Despite growing up just half an hour away from Shea Stadium and, later, Citi Field, Dunn was a Yankees fan as a kid.

“My dad was a big Yankee fan, and I grew up during the Core Four era,” Dunn said. “But we went to more Mets games because it was more convenient and cheaper.”

Wherever he went, Dunn looked at games as a chance to pick up pointers.

“At 16 and 17 [years old], I was just a baseball fan,” Dunn said. “I’d watch pitchers and guys’ swings. I was a student of the game.”

That continued when he met Martinez, and he has texted with the Hall of Famer several times since their first meeting.

“I’m not on the same level with him whatsoever, but I watched how free and easy he is,’’ said Dunn, who also kept an eye on other right-handers. “[Toronto’s] Marcus Stroman pitches with high energy and I try to do that. [Tampa Bay’s] Chris Archer, I look at how he uses his changeup. But Pedro, he’s a competitor, and that’s what I am. I love having the ball.”

In the meantime, he watches the Mets play on SNY at his place in Port St. Lucie.

“I know what winning is to New York,” Dunn said. “And we all want to get a championship back to Flushing.”



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