For fans, it’s the only form of professional baseball to tie them over through the grueling offseason. For players, it’s a chance for them to showcase their talents to their respective clubs and get a jump-start on the upcoming campaign. In the valley of the sun, Marlins’ outfield prospect Austin Dean shone bright, becoming one of the Arizona Fall League’s best players and earning All-Star honors for the second time in the matter of only a few months.
After leading the Hammerheads and placing 18th in the entire league in BA (.268) and placing third on his squad in slugging (.366) in his second professional full season in 2015 in the extremely pitcher friendly Florida State League, Dean took his talents to Mesa. There, in the much more neutral Arizona Fall League, the 22-year-old showed off his potential by becoming the league’s ninth-best for average hitter by way of a .323 BA. By rounding out his slash line with a .364 OBP and .452 SLG, he kept pace with the likes of Giants’ top prospect Christian Arroyo (MLB.com’s #82 prospect) and outperformed guys like Indians’ stud Clint Frazier (MLB.com’s #27 prospect) all while hitting against guys like Cardinals’ top arm Alex Reyes (MLB.com’s #13 prospect) and Brewers lefty Josh Hader, MLB’s #61 prospect who is on the verge of cracking the majors. Dean had a hit in 12 of his 16 games, including six multi-hit efforts.
One of the most impressive moments of the entire AFL season came when Dean participated in the league’s hitting challenge during the league’s opening week. In the event, a player from each organization swings for homers as well as for targets placed around the field which can earn them points. Prior to that, each player attempts four bunts trying to place the ball inside of a target on the infield. Before showing off his line drive power by hitting several balls to the wall, Dean was the only player in the competition to place a bunt inside one of the circular target areas, proving he is honing a vast variety of hitting tools. Dean made it to a tiebreaker playoff final in the competition by tying Dodgers prospect Jacob Scavuzzo.
At season’s end, Dean’s accomplishments won him an invite to the league’s All-Star game (appropriately called the Fall Stars Game). Once again, much like he did the entire AFL season, he didn’t disappoint. He provided the most exciting play of the night when he hit a ball down the line in right, perfectly placed past a diving outfielder. He then rounded the bases in a flash and scored an inside-the-park home run standing up, which provided two of the East’s three runs. And that is exactly the type of hitter Dean is: not a guy who is going to hit a lot of balls over the fence but rather a tactically sound bat with great vision who frustrates pitchers by waiting them out and forcing them to come in to the zone. He keeps his head down all the way through his swing and, as is evidenced by his hit chart from last season with the Hammerheads, hit the ball to all fields. After his prototypical line drive swing which has attributed to a career 18.66 line drive percentage, Dean has a good first step out of the box and plus speed that garnered him a 6.74 60 yard dash time coming out of high school and 18 stolen bases last season.
Asked about what he thinks of his former teammate at the plate, Tyler Bremer who spent most of last year playing with Dean, echoed these sentiments and further explained why Dean is already such a tough out to get.
“His approach is what makes him tough to pitch to,” Bremer says. “He drives the ball to right field very well but has quick enough hands to get to the inside pitch as well. He also has enough pop to really hurt if a pitcher makes a mistake. I think if he keeps making improvements to his game like he has been the past off seasons I think he has the chance to be an every day outfielder in the big leagues.”
The improvements Bremer speaks of come in part by the way in which Dean has tempered his strikeout total with each passing year. Since 2013, he has seen his K% fall from 20% to 13%. In addition to his fine plate work with the Hammerheads, Dean also navigated the cavernous outfield of Roger Dean Stadium very well, compiling a 1.82 range factor and 15 outfield assists between two positions, rounding out his game nicely.
So what does all of this mean? Of course Dean’s exports in Arizona this year, great as they were, need to be taken for what they were: a small sample size worth of two months’ ABs. However, when included in total with what Dean has been able to accomplish thus far in his young career, his winter in Mesa further highlighted his full-season accomplishments in Jupiter and undoubtedly earned him at least a very good chance at being promoted to AA Jacksonville this season, even if he begins his season with the Hammerheads. Dean is nurturing and building a skill set that is becoming of an every day starting outfielder. He has already been a fun product to watch and will continue to be this coming year.