As the New Orleans Baby Cakes prepared for Thursday's 2019 season opener, outfielder Austin Dean was asked how he felt being chosen the Miami Marlins' 2018 Minor League Player of the Year.
“It was good to see all my hard work pay off like that,” said Dean, who went from Double-A Jacksonville to Triple-A New Orleans to the Marlins last season. “It was cool. It's a good award, but it's one you only want to win once.”
Baby Cakes first-year manager Keith Johnson said Dean shouldn't have any worries concerning that.
“He may not be here more than a couple of weeks,” said Johnson, who watched Dean during the Marlins' spring training. “I've managed against him, and I saw him in spring training. He can just flat-out hit.”
Dean was expected to be Miami's starting left fielder this season after hitting a combined .345 last season in stints with Jacksonville and his first season in Triple A. He knew he had to impress the Marlins to the point of leaving no doubt during spring training, and he did his part. In 16 games, Dean batted .364 (12-for-33). However, he was optioned to the Baby Cakes on March 21.
The Marlins had signed 38-year-old free agent outfielder Curtis Granderson and opted for his experience. Although Granderson, who had played with the Toronto Blue Jays, batted just .156 (5-for-32) in 12 spring games, he was expected to make the Marlins' roster from the beginning of camp.
Dean seems to be taking it in stride.
“I'm not ownership,” said Dean, who was drafted in the fourth round as a corner infielder from Klein Collins High School near Houston and turned down a scholarship offer to the University of Texas. “I don't control the roster or anything like that. I'm a player. Wherever they tell me to go, and I'm going to play, and whenever my time comes, I'll be ready.
“I went from Double A to Triple to the big leagues last year, so it was an awesome experience. Just being up there was very eye-opening, so I'm just looking forward to being here, playing, getting some games in and being called up soon.”
If history is any indication, that may well take place for Dean. His big 2018 season was somewhat of a reset. In 2017, he had a broken wrist after an outfield collision on April 12 and played in 61 games in his first season with Jacksonville.
That ended a three-season streak of being selected as a Minor League All-Star. However, Dean made up for it right off the bat in 2018. In the first 22 games with Jacksonville, he batted .420 (34-for-81) with three home runs, eight doubles and a triple and was chosen Southern League Player of the Month for April.
He was called up to the Baby Cakes on April 29, and it didn't take long to adjust to Triple A pitching. He went 2-for-4 in his debut at Nashville. He was the Pacific Coast League Player of the Week for June 6-12 after leading the league for that period in batting average (.647), on-base percentage (.700), slugging percentage (1.353) and total bases (23).
Dean wound up leading the Cakes with a .326 average, fourth in the PCL, after getting 39 multiple-hit games. He received his first call up to Miami on Aug. 15. He played in 34 games and batted .221, with four homers, four doubles, 14 RBIs, 16 runs. Just as important, he struck out just 22 times. In training camp, he had four strikeouts.
“I just get up there and hit,” he said. “Whenever I'm thinking too much up there, I just step out of the batter's box and reset.”
Asked what Dean needs to work on to get back to Miami and stay,
Johnson said, “All he needs is the opportunity.”
Dean agreed, but said he'd like to continue working becoming a better defensive outfielder.
“There's not really a lot (to work on),” he said. “I was a new outfielder when I got drafted. I've spent a lot of time out there. I'd been really bad in the outfield but over the years I've had a lot of coordinators and a lot of coaches help me out. So, I feel my game in the outfield has gotten a lot better than what it was.”
Dean smiles at the mention of the Baby Cakes' outfield. He will be starting along with Monte Harrison and center fielder Isaac Galloway.
“This will be Monte's first year in Triple A,” Dean said. “I played with him a little bit in Double A. He's a very good outfielder, very good hitter. Isaac is back; he can cover just about everything out there.
“As a team, everybody here was together in spring camp. So we got to know each other. We already have a good camaraderie, good chemistry. It's like we all know each other.”