Atlanta's Dean savoring time in Winter League
The foundation to become a boy of summer is often created in the dead of winter. For Justin Dean, it's all part of the path to the Major Leagues. Having reached the precipice of The Show last season, the Braves' outfield prospect understands baseball doesn't end when the shadows grow
The foundation to become a boy of summer is often created in the dead of winter. For
Having reached the precipice of The Show last season, the Braves' outfield prospect understands baseball doesn't end when the shadows grow long in September. For Dean and countless others, the work was only just beginning. As the 26-year-old puts the finishing touches on a standout Mexican Pacific League campaign, he does so with the belief that his offseason experiences are paving the road to Atlanta.
"Yeah, I feel like there's no better way to get better at the game of baseball than taking game reps," Dean said. "So coming out here and playing extra games, you know, when people are maybe resting or maybe they're doing some type of cage work, I feel like I can get an advantage on how I play the game of baseball."
Justin Dean mostrando su gran brazo 😎⚡️🔥#SomosMéxico 🇲🇽#MéxicoXLa10 🇲🇽 🏆#SCaribexSky #SKYSportsMX pic.twitter.com/R3yT0gtFJg— Liga ARCO Mexicana del Pacífico (@Liga_Arco) February 3, 2023
The South Carolina native has taken full advantage this winter, putting together one of his best stretches of a professional career that began in 2018. Through 67 games with the Caneros de Los Mochis, Dean batted .343 with a .902 OPS, 20 extra-base hits, 37 runs, 34 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.
Dean is wrapping up his stint with Mexico in the Caribbean Series in Venezuela, his second consecutive offseason of continuous baseball action. The seeds, however, were sewn during his second pro season in 2019.
"I played against [former big leaguer Robinson Cancel] in the States," Dean said. "He's a manager with the [Single-A Fresno Grizzlies] and we played against each other a lot in the Minor League season ... in 2019. ... He hit me up around 2020 to go play with him in Puerto Rico, but the season got canceled because of COVID, and then he came down to manage in Mexico. So the next winter, after my first season in Double-A, I came down and played with the Caneros for a little bit as well."
The experience has been nothing but positive for Dean, who relishes the time he gets to spend not only playing baseball but living in a different culture.
"My experience has been great. I give it a 10 out of 10," Dean said. "I've been having good fun, the weather's great. It's an experience in a new country, so I'm having a great time. There are some differences in the game. The tempo of the game is a little slower here. Just because we have more time, there's not as many as restrictions and rules as there [are] in the Minor Leagues. There's a little bit more [velocity] in the States, I would say. ... The atmosphere is just crazy."
After spending the first three weeks of the 2022 Minor League season with Triple-A Gwinnett, Dean wound up back in Double-A Mississippi for the rest of the year. Although his final numbers were less than what he hoped for, his performance this winter opened enough eyes to earn him an invitation to big league camp later this month.
Cracking the Opening Day roster of a loaded Braves squad might prove difficult, but Dean will get his chance, and he feels his offensive game has kicked into another gear, thanks in large part to the extra reps in Mexico.
"My approach, just being able to take at-bat after at-bat after at-bat and work on what I want to work on at the plate," Dean said of the biggest improvement. "As far as my whole winter season and then coming over here, just being able to share my plan and make solid what I want to do ... that's gonna make me a better player and make me more consistent."
As Dean nears his fifth pro season, he understands hard work doesn't offer guarantees but can open up plenty more possibilities. It's why he preaches to anyone who will listen about his positive winter ball experiences.
"If you had the opportunity, if your body feels good ... everything lines up where you can play winter ball, you have free time ... do it," he said. "It's a great way to stay in baseball shape. It's a great way to improve your game and get game reps, get money. You get a new experience if you never played outside of the country. So I encourage everybody."
Augusto Cardenas contributed to this story.