Justin Dean was a welcomed sight in 2021. He was among the many who had a lost 2020 COVID-19 campaign after a breakout 2019 in Rome. And like his big-league World Series champion brethren, Dean was a key part of a title-winning ball club in Mississippi.
Let’s take a look at the year that was for one of the Atlanta Braves’ better prospects.
Midseason report card: Dean was able to shake off the rust pretty well in 2021. He made his Double-A debut and flashed the athletic skills that keep him a favorite prospect. The 2018 17th-round MLB-draft pick came in at No. 20 on the Talking Chop Midseason Top-20 Prospect List.
2021 stats: .237/.345/.364, 8 HR, 60 R, 34 RBI, 29 SB
What we saw in 2021: It was an interesting season for Dean. When he got on base, he did what he does best: steal bases. His 29 were tops in Double-A South which made for the second-straight season he led a league in the category (his 47 were the best in the South Atlantic League in 2019).
We did see a worrisome trend, though. Dean posted a 9.9% walk rate which was considerably lower than his impressive 12.3% walk rate in 2019. His strikeout rate saw a more drastic change, as he struck out 30.3% of the time as opposed to just 22.9% of the time in 2019. Dean is a weapon when he gets on base, so a decreasing walk rate and strike out rate on the rise is worth watching.
That said, it was a wild season and took plenty a hitter time to adjust. Perhaps most encouraging was a strong finish to the season. He slashed .295/.380/.477 in 12 September games, walking five times and striking out nine in 44 at-bats. In the five-game championship series, he was pivotal to the Mississippi Double-A title, going 7-for-21 with six runs scored, two doubles, and two stolen bases.
What the future holds: There is no denying Dean has the tools, mainly his speed, to stay in centerfield and atop the order. His resume thus far speaks for itself: He’s been a top-30 Braves prospect for three years running, had a solid run in the Arizona Fall League and has led two different levels in stolen bases.
There is also a logjam in the Atlanta Braves outfield, both at the big-league level and on the pipeline. Let’s remember, Dean never took a High-A at-bat and went right from Low-A to Double-A while missing an entire season in between. Depending on the outfield situation in Atlanta, Dean could very well find himself in Double-A to start 2022, but his speed, baserunning abilities and defensive prowess will only hold him down for so long.