Prior to struggling with injuries that kept him out of action for much of 2014 and all of 2017, Austin James Dean is turning in a tour-de-force performance for the Marlins organization as he heads toward making his mark upon the professional ranks.
Dean was born on October 14, 1993 in Spring, Texas where he attended Klein Collins High School. Following in the footsteps of David Murphy and Josh Barfeild, Dean earned underclass honors in both 2010 and 2011. In his senior year, Dean hit .379 with 10 doubles, 12 homers and 44 RBI on his way to a 2nd team All American selection where he joined the likes of Oakland A’s #9 prospect James Kaprielian and St Louis Cardinals and Tate Matheny, a Red Sox prospect who was a .408/.338/.408 hitter at the A level last year and who is off to a .304/.411/.342 start in AA this season.
Following his breakout 2015 season, Dean signed with the Marlins who selected him in the fourth round, a spot which earned the 18-year-old a $379,000 paycheck. Upon putting pen to paper on his first professional contract, it started Dean down a path of stark maturation both as a player and as a man, quite the set of tasks for a newly anointed adult. Though he admits that the first year was tough as he adjusted to the shock of both living independently and the level of competition, by keeping his family as close as possible and by feeding off the advice of his elders, Dean has been able to conquer both challenges, turning a wide-eyed kid with a dream into a focused man with a plan.
“Being a high schooler in pro ball was a big wake-up call. You go from being the best player on your high school team, to going and playing with everyone who is just as good or even better then you. My first year in pro ball was definitely life changing. Being away from home, and being away from your family is tough. But ever since then it’s been a growing up thing,” Dean explains. “You learn how to take care of yourself and be an adult while your playing. I’ve definitely matured a lot since 2012 when I got drafted. On the baseball side, I’ve come across many of different coaches and players, and you tend to pick things as you go and learn different things from them. I’ve learned a lot of thing over the past 6 years, and I have think that’s helped me as a player.”
According to Dean, there have been many supporters and proponents that are responsible for getting him to where he is today. However, one person’s encouragement and advice has catalytically stood above all the rest.
“My dad. He’s always been supportive of my baseball career and he will always be my number 1 fan,” Dean said. “His biggest thing he loves telling me is, “You don’t want to be doing my job, sitting behind a desk and dealing with people all day.” I always laughed at it, but he was right. I love baseball and I am very blessed to be playing this game, continuing to chase my dreams of making it up to the big leagues.”
Dean’s path to the realization of that dream hasn’t come without some bumps in the road.
After getting his feet wet in the GCL at the end of his draft year, Dean began his pro career by hitting .268/.328/.418 for the 2013 Muckdogs, totals which included the second best SLG on the team and 15th in the New York Penn League. The numbers which were paved by his 12 doubles and seven triples which were the most in the NYPL earned Dean a look in Greensboro to end that season.
In 2014, Dean began the year in Greensboro and was tasked with the most extensive action of his young baseball career. Though Dean’s body would falter under the pressure, his drive, grind, resolve and fantastic baseball skill set remained strong. Dean began that season by hitting .288/.343/.403, earning a nod in the 2014 South Atlantic League All-Star Game.
However, just before the break, Dean hit the DL for the first time with a right hand injury he suffered during a slide. After spending more than two weeks off the field completely, things went from bad to worse for Dean during his rehab stint in extended spring training when he suffered a nasal fracture after being hit by a pitch. But none of that hindered Dean. Showing the poise of a veteran well beyond his years let alone a 20-year-old playing in his first full season, Dean returned in early July. That month, he had one of the better months by a Greensboro player in recent memory, hitting .377/.459/.500 before he went down with injury again in early August due to a groin strain. As frustrating as this may seem, Dean once again returned undeterred, swatting six more XBHs in his final 14 games and rounding out a fantastic .308/.371/.444, 33 XBH, 72/38, 128 wRC+ season. His SLG stood at 15th best as did his wRC+, his BA was 9th best and his 24.7% line drive percentage was third best in his league. Quite the breakout season from a kid nearly a year and a half younger than the league average competition grinding through the most extensive single season action of his career.
After Dean was promoted to Jupiter and the Florida State League in 2015 where he was equally as advertised as he showed a season previous when not playing in the extremely pitcher-friendly Roger Dean Stadium (.289/.337/.410 on the road versus .244/.298/.317 at home) and after Dean tore up the Arizona Fall League by hitting .323/.364/.452 against some of the top young talent in baseball that offseason, he began 2016 in AA Jacksonville marking a third straight season he’d received a promotion. That year, Dean had a solid first half hitting .261/.345/.426 with a 53/32 K/BB over his first 68 games but seemed to be pressing a bit at the plate in the second half when he hit just .212/.262/.320 with a 57/16 K/BB. Overall, Dean hit .238/.307/.375, setting him up to repeat a level for the first time in his career in 2017.
At this very untimely moment, when Dean was working on adjusting to hitting consistently at the upper levels where scouting reports and number crunching are utilized much more, Dean would once again be bitten by the injury bug. Just seven games into the season, he broke his right hand in an outfield collision with Yefri Perez. The injury would cost Dean nearly three full months.
It’s been 8 weeks since I broke my hand, and I finally got see live pitching for the first time 🙌🏻🙌🏻.
— Austin Dean (@AustinDean_3) June 2, 2017
However, Dean once again refused to succumb to the ailment. After a short stint in the GCL in which he went 7-13 in three games, Dean returned to the Jumbo Shrimp on July 3. He lived out the rest of the 2017 season by hitting .283/.325/.415, more than impressive numbers given the timing of his injury and the amount of time missed at such a disadvantageous time in his development.
So how was Dean once again able to overcome the damage to both his body and psyche during this difficult time? Despite the distance between them, Dean says the biggest impetus during the entire process was the same one that has been throughout his baseball career: his family.
“My parents last year were a big help. We’d talk every day or try to and obviously this was something new to me not being able to play,” Dean said. “They kept me motivated, and they were very supportive as well, and I probably couldn’t have done it with out them.”
This season in Jacksonville, a 100% Dean is paying homage to his support system by being the best hitter in the entire Marlins’ organization. Through his first 22 games this season facing the same level of competition that gave him fits in the second half of 2016, Dean has been on fire. In fact, Dean’s bat has been so hot it’s made history. In his first 81 ABs, Dean has hit a ludicrous .420/.466/.654 with three homers, eight doubles, a triple and 14 RBI. His slash line marks the best offensive April in the Southern League since 2005 when Matt Murton hit .437/.505/.621. To put it another way, Dean just had the league’s best offensive month of April in over a decade. By way of a ridiculous 92% contact rate, Dean hit in 16 of 22 games and reached base in 18 of 22 including 17 of 18 to begin the season. His monthly success has been met with a promotion to AAA New Orleans to begin May.
After simplifying his stance and approach in his rookie season, Dean, a 6’1”, 190 pounder, has learned how to fill some holes in his swing and come by power with ease. This month with the Shrimp, Dean has also shown much improved patience, a greater ability to take close pitches, foul off tough pitches (proven by his 0.86 BB/K) and wait for his inside pitch in order to feed off his pull-happy instincts. He’s also shown a better feel for getting his hands extended to pitches on the outer half, either taking them to his pull side via his great raw strength or in the very least, making contact, limiting his K rate. The catalyst for this has been a shortened approach and heightened bat speed. Older and wiser, Dean has learned how to settle for what is given to him. He isn’t pressing and simply allowing his raw skill to drive his game. Smooth, fluid and effortless at the plate, the numbers are coming naturally to Dean, a fantastic sign. The only thing that was consistently missing from Dean’s game in April was the ability to lean in to pitches and go the other way (24% opposite field hit percentage). But so far in AAA (small sample aside), Dean has rectified that issue and for the first time in his career, is actually favoring his opposite field (47.6% opposite field hit percentage). If Dean continues to show these same contact rates and plate coverage ability at the highest level of minor league ball, there isn’t going to be much left for him to prove below the Major League level and if the stats persist, the organization isn’t going to be able to hold him back much longer.
After all of his trials and tribulations, Dean, who holds the ceiling of a familiar friend of ours Jeff Conine (career .285/.347/.443, 17 HR 162 game average), is on the verge of his Major League call.
His parents probably already have their plane tickets.