Late last week, just after the new collective bargaining agreement for Major League Baseball passed, Battery Power had the chance to interview Atlanta Braves OF prospect Justin Dean.
Dean has had an interesting road as a player, going from Division II to late round pick, and now is one of the Top 30 prospects in the Braves system who is also on the doorstep of the big leagues after spending 2021 in Double A Mississippi.
Battery Power: Last year you moved up to Double A. What would you say the biggest adjustment for you was going from the lower half of the minors to now being in the upper levels?
Justin Dean: A couple of things. Athletes all over the field now. At the lower levels guys are still pretty good, but as I moved to Double A you could see things start to narrow down and basically everybody at every position can really play and really glove it. The pitching. The velo is up consistently and they’re playing with the zone a lot better than Low A. In Low A they can throw their offspeed for strikes, but once they get up to Double A they can throw the offspeed pitches towards the edge of the zone and play with the zone a little more. The pitching was definitely a little more advanced.
BP: This past offseason you spent a little time in the Mexican Winter League. How was that experience for you, both on and off the field?
Dean: The winter league was dope. I loved everything about it really. On the field the game was still the same, but honestly it was a little more intense. They treat every game a little more important over there. The atmosphere is bigger and a lot of fans pull up to the games night in, night out, especially on the weekends when it’s packed out there. It’s loud out there. The managers are managing like it’s Game 7 of the playoffs. So everything feels important over there. The baseball was really fun and the competition was really good too. I met a lot of dope people over there, and not speaking the language it was fun to immerse myself in that atmosphere. Off the field was dope as well.
BP: It sounds like you really enjoyed yourself. Is it an experience you’d like to have again if the situation is right for you?
Dean: Right. I got good ties over there now and I played well so I definitely would if another opportunity opened up over there. I would definitely revisit.
BP: Outside of the Mexican Winter League how did you train/spend your winter? What did your workout schedule look like on a typical day?
Dean: After I got back from the Mexican League I flew out to Arizona and got some training in out there at a hitting facility and working out at a gym about 20 minutes from there. I’d get up and start working at 10 or 11 AM depending on the day then drive over to Push Performance and hit over there. I would say we lifted four days a week and hit five days a week.
BP: How many hours a day did you spend working out and hitting?
Dean: About an hour and a half to two hours lifting, then an hour to hit. Probably three to four hours a day.
BP: Up until today spring training is obviously a little different this year without the guys on the 40 man being a part of it. How different has that been for you compared to past years spring trainings? Has that led to additional one on one time for you with coaches with less players in camp? (Note that when this question was asked, big leaguers hadn’t fully reported to camp yet)
Dean: It’s usually a lot more traffic around the facility, a lot more guys flowing in and out of the place. That’s the difference, with it being just the minor leaguers. It’s also been where we’re the most important guys on the campus because we’re the only guys on the campus. That’s been different and we’ve definitely got a lot more looks as far as the coordinators and rovers since they get to hang out at our fields the whole day since they aren’t bouncing between big leagues games. Those guys(big leaguers) are definitely the priority, so when they aren’t here it goes based off seniority and age with the older groups getting the most attention. It’s been different but it is about to get back to normal here in a few days.
BP: Speaking of things being different, how did you spend your 2020, and what was it like to going back to playing games again after almost 18 months between official games? Was there a certain amount of rust you/everyone needed to shake off or was it just natural as soon as you got back on the field?
Dean: There was definitely rust for me personally. My first experience getting back into baseball on the field was big league camp. So it was a little shocking honestly. I got out here and wanted to be back to 100% of what I felt like my game was, but for a while I wasn’t. I didn’t really notice it until I hit that 100% and then it was like “wow this is what it feels like to be ready to play the games and put my best foot forward.” It was a little slow start at first in big league camp. First at bats are happening in big league games so that was an adjustment. But it was fun. Probably the best way to knock the rust off was getting thrown right into the fire.
BP: How long would you say it took you to really shake off that rust?
Dean: Right around the second or third week of the season in Mississippi after breaking camp and settling into a new place at a new level, it just took me a little while to adjust I think.
BP: Did everyone shake the rust off about the same time? Or did that really vary by the individual?
Dean: It really depended on what you did(in 2020). Some guys got the opportunity to go to the alternate site and that helped a lot of guys. I’d say that helped the majority of guys who got to go there, just staying in baseball shape, hitting BP, and seeing live reads. For a certain point during quarantine I wasn’t doing anything because we didn’t know when we were going back. Since you can’t work the whole time I took a little time off and after that little time away from baseball it took a little time to get back.
BP: That’s gotta be the longest time you’ve been away from the game in your life I would assume?
Dean: 100%. I haven’t had a summer since before high school ball and now in 2020 I had a little bit of a summer break.
BP: Did you get to do some stuff that you missed out on while playing the game?
Dean: I went to the beach, though with it still being the middle of the pandemic not everything was open. I got to go for Memorial Day. I got to do something on the 4th of July, and normally we’re playing a game on the 4th of July. So that was pretty cool. But I was definitely missing baseball.
BP: One question we like to ask is who the toughest pitcher you’ve faced so far is?
Dean: Let me think about that for a minute. Edward Cabrera or Nick Lodolo. I’ll throw in Shane Baz for a close third if I can do a Top 3.
BP: Outside the obvious goal of reaching the big leagues, do you have any goals for yourself this year that you can share, whether statistic or areas you’d like to improve?
Dean: As far as something not physical, I want to be in check with my mental. It’s something I always talk about with people I’m close to, like my mom. Being able to control what you can control and keep your thoughts in a positive direction. Keep your ideas going forward and don’t get too stuck on things that don’t work out and things you want to improve, just letting them happen. I want to be better at just staying the course, staying in a positive mind frame, and showing up at the park every day with a good energy and attitude and ready to work. I want to be super conscious of that with my mental state. With my game I want to be more in tune with the way I play baseball, putting the ball in play and running and stealing bases or taking extra bases. I just want to be on base as much as I can and create runs. As far as power, it’s going to be there but I want to play my game and spray the ball around the field.
BP: You’ve spent your time in the system playing both center and right field. Do you have a preference for where you play? Or is it more of a wherever you are needed is where you want to be?
Dean: I am willing to play wherever for real. I do like being comfortable in one spot. I’m a creature of habit and routine, so of course I would rather play at one spot. It doesn’t matter which one, but the more games you get in at one the better. I got so comfortable playing both after splitting so much time that it really doesn’t matter to me. Even with left field, but I primarily play center and right field.