Justin Dean has been a favorite of ours here at Talking Chop since the beginning of last season. A draftee out of a small DII school who has had to prove doubters wrong his entire career because of his height (5’8), all this guy does is perform and silence those that think he doesn’t have what it take. I will not rehash the entire scouting report on Dean here as we have written about him quite a bit, but I highly encourage folks to read this writeup that our own Wayne Cavadi wrote about Justin back in April to get up to speed on what he is about as a prospect as well as his journey to being a professional baseball player.
Coming off a season that saw him slash .284/.386/.431 with nine home runs and 47 stolen bases, Justin got on a lot of folks’ radars in a hurry and was selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League as a reward for that success. I recently caught up with Justin so that I could talk with him about his journey to pro ball and about some of the things that have allowed him to have success in the early part of his pro career. Enjoy!
Alright Justin, let’s go way back first. While you were growing up, I assume you played baseball, but did you play any other sports competitively and what made you decide to commit to baseball?
I played basketball and I played football as well. It was pretty clear that baseball is what I was best at off the jump. I would probably say that I had more friends who played baseball as well. That is always going to influence your decisions as to what your boys are doing, especially when you are younger. I did play a little bit of basketball, but the height thing made it to where that didn’t work out. As for football, I didn’t like it. I got hit one time and I was like, “this isn’t for me”.
You have talked a lot about others discounting you because of your size over the years from high school to your time at Lenoir-Rhyne. When did you notice that that was changing and that you might actually get the chance to play professionally?
I would say around my sophomore year of college. As I started to do well, we were seeing more scouts at games and I got to know them and they were definitely paying attention to me. I did get to do a pro day and while I couldn’t do all of the official pro day stuff, they did let me do work out there and I got some good feedback there. Then I went to play in a league in Wilmington, NC and I had some people watching me there and that is when I knew that I was on the verge.
More specifically, when were you aware that the Braves in particular were interested in drafting you and how many other teams do you think were really interested in your services?
The Braves, in particular, I knew were interested from that pro day as well. I filled out a pre-draft questionnaire for them and I had a meeting with my area scout who ended up getting me drafted, Billy Best, and that is when I knew they were interested because I didn’t have any other meetings with teams. I did questionnaires for about 15 teams I would say and then when it came to during the draft itself, I would say seriously about four or five teams that called me to talk about rounds and numbers and talked to my agent, etc.
Now we get to the baseball talk. One of your calling cards in terms of tools is your speed. However, we have seen guys who are fast not succeed in stealing bases and utilizing their speed effectively on the basepaths overall. When you are looking to steal a base or maybe take an extra base, what are some of the things you have learned as a pro to be effective at it and what are some of the things you look for?
The biggest thing, for me anyways, isn’t looking at what count it is or anything like that. It is just not being afraid. If you are on base and thinking “should I go here?”, you can hesitate with your jumps and get thrown out. Whenever you go, there is a risk/reward thing because you can either be in scoring position or you can run yourself out of a chance. You have to be willing to take that risk and go for it and I am all about playing like that.
You now have your first full season of pro ball under your belt. Give us the scouting report you expect that other teams use on how to pitch to you and what adjustments have you made both during the season and maybe this offseason (if any) to combat the opposing pitchers’ gameplan?
Well, word is going to get out pretty quickly that I am going to be aggressive. I love to swing at the first pitch. Even as a leadoff hitter, late in the season I started seeing offspeed early in counts...saw that a few times late last year. I know that other guys are going to know that I am going to start an at-bat gripping up. I try to have some controlled aggression. Late in counts, I know I am going to get some sliders off the plate...that is what they are going to come at me with. I don’t chase the elevated fastball much and they don’t come at me with that much because they know that. It’s going be a slider away tailing off into the batter’s box and that is how they are going to try and get me.
That leads me to my next question. You are an aggressive hitter, but you will take your walks. A lot of times, aggressive hitters won’t work walks and the at-bat is over quickly one way or another. Do you change your approach at the at-bat progresses or is it something else?
It all depends on how I am feeling against the guy I am facing. Sometimes, as the season goes on and you get to see guys a couple times, you start to see some tendencies. It depends on how they are attacking me. If I feel like I have the upper hand, I am not going to step off the gas, but if a guy fools me on a 1-0 pitch on some filthy offspeed, I’ll take a step back and try to wait on my pitch or go the other way or see if he is going to come back and double up on something I have seen.
You were selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League this past fall. Overall, how was your experience in the AFL and what do you feel like you gained from the experience?
It was definitely a shock for me in terms of playing time. To go from playing every day to being on the bench and trying to find that rhythm, it was hard. I had played every day since high school, really. That was an adjustment and I was grateful for that because in the big leagues, you don’t just go in and start right away. I’m glad I got to experience that and learn how to deal with that. There was a lot of super good talent down there, too.
What has been your focus this offseason in terms of getting ready for the 2020 season?
Definitely trying to keep the body right and keeping the body strong. I got a trainer this offseason. I kind of did my own thing last offseason and this one, I wanted to take it to a higher level so I got a trainer and have been working hard. I want to come in with a really strong base because over the course of a season, weight loss is gonna happen because it is super hot and you are out there running around. This season, I want to come in with a little more weight but, of course, not at the expense of my speed. Hopefully I can get a little more behind the ball on my throws and at the plate.
We are quite familiar with the Braves farm system here and the top guys get a lot of attention. Who is a guy that you think should be getting more attention that isn’t getting the love that they deserve?
Definitely Greg Cullen...he is just super solid both in the field and at the plate. He is just really consistent and while I get why he doesn’t get all of the hype, but he just continues to perform and if he get the chance to do it, he is going to continue to do it. He was a midseason and postseason All-Star, he has the right work ethic, and the right attitude. I am a big fan of Greg.