MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Nationals tab Dunning at No. 29 to be starter

Right-hander also worked as a reliever at the University of Florida

Nationals tab Dunning at No. 29 to be starter

WASHINGTON -- It was a no brainer for the Nationals as far as how Dane Dunning fits in the organization. He is currently a starter and a reliever for the University of Florida. After making him the 29th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft on Thursday, the Nats will make him a starter.

Dunning will likely begin his professional career with Class A Auburn in order to get acclimated as a starter, according to Washington assistant general manager Kris Kline.

28th overall: Carter Kieboom

"If he was in another college program, Dunning would have been the Friday night starter for 95 percent of the other teams in the country," Kline said. "Unfortunately, he was in a logjam with really talented guys. We are going to develop him as a starter. He has a really good delivery and really good stuff."

Dunning was overjoyed when he heard that he was going to be a starter in the Nationals organization.

"I'm extremely grateful that I'm going to become a starter. I wanted to be a starter my whole entire life," Dunning said. "Either way, I'm really happy. ... Being able to start is a dream come true."

Nats' Draft picks excited

In addition to Dunning, Florida teammates A.J. Puk (No. 6) and Logan Shore (No. 47), both pitchers, were selected by the A's, while outfielder Buddy Reed (No. 48) was taken by the Padres and first baseman Pete Alonso (No. 64) by the Mets on Day 1.

"It was very humbling, and it was a little disappointing at the same time because everyone is fighting for a job," Dunning said. "Everyone wants to start. Once I discovered my role, I was coming out of the bullpen for the team, and it happened the way it should. I love the experience that I got. I was able to start and come out of the 'pen. I got a taste of both. I actually loved it."

The Draft concludes on Saturday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at noon ET.

58th overall: Sheldon Neuse

Dunning was selected a few minutes after the Nationals tabbed shortstop Carter Kieboom with the 28th pick of the first round.

Dunning was a compensation pick for shortstop Ian Desmond, who signed with the Rangers during Spring Training. It's also the first time the Nationals had two first-round picks in the Draft since 2009 when they selected right-handers Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen.

Before the Draft, Dunning didn't talk to the Nationals as much as he had hoped and was surprised the team drafted him in the first round. Even his parents didn't know he was drafted until they saw the news clip on TV.

"I'm truly blessed to be taken where I was at," Dunning said.

Dunning is currently 5-3 with two saves and a 2.50 ERA in 29 games for Florida. Dunning has struck out 78 batters and walked just 11 to this point in the 2016 season. Dunning will continue to pitch for the Gators as they advanced to the Super Regional Round of the College World Series.

A native of Fleming Island, Fla., Dunning attended Clay High School in Green Cove Springs, Fla. He was selected by the Blue Jays in the 34th round of the 2013 Draft, but chose to attend Florida. He was named to the Rawlings/Perfect Game preseason second-team Florida All-Region prior to his senior year. As a senior at Clay, he earned all-state honors in Class 5A and was the school's Athlete of the Year after going 5-2 with a 1.27 ERA.

Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.