With two months to go until the 2019 Marlins regular season, let the countdown begin. This article launches our Fish Stripes season preview series! By Opening Day, we intend to cover every player on the 40-man roster, plus other notable Spring Training invitees and broader issues impacting the organization.
Reigning Minor League Player of the Year Austin Dean is poised to break camp with an Opening Day roster spot. The Marlins like his bat and his attitude, though with several promising outfielders lurking in the high minors, he’ll need to produce to secure playing time throughout the entire season.
How did he get here? Fourth-round pick, 2012 MLB Draft
2018 MiLB Stats: .345/.410/.511, 12 HR in 109 G
2018 MLB Stats: .221/.279/.363, 4 HR, 81 OPS+ in 34 G
2019 ZiPS Projection: .255/.311/.388, 11 HR, 93 OPS+ in 134 G
It took Dean more than six years to progress from new professional player to major leaguer. The journey had numerous obstacles beyond his control. As chronicled by Alex Carver of Fish On The Farm, his in-game reps were repeatedly limited by unfortunately injuries. Awkward slides, hit by pitches and outfield collisions sent him the disabled list at various times.
There was never doubt about his quick swing and ability to hit to all fields. Dean was actually the top-ranked outfield prospect in the Marlins system entering 2017, according to Baseball America.
That same offseason, Dean committed to unlocking more potential in other areas. Working out at Dynamic Sports Training in his native Texas, he slimmed down and improved his diet.
It translated to the diamond immediately. Dean was teammates with Harrison, Sierra and Brinson last summer—at Double-A, Triple-A and MLB, respectively—and comfortably outplayed each of them.
After relatively quiet production at Jacksonville the previous two years, Dean erupted for a .420/.466/.654 slash line in 22 games. His dominance forced a promotion to New Orleans before the end of April, though he received Southern League Player of the Month honors anyway. Dean’s offense continued to impress in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (.326/.397/.475, 132 wRC+). He was a consistent on-base machine.
Evaluators were anxious to see more of his raw power being utilized. That’s why his age-24 campaign was so encouraging.
The first spray chart below shows all of Dean’s career minor league hits; the second focuses only on this past season.
Through 2017, Dean had never launched a regular season home run to the opposite field. New Orleans was a different story, as indicated by those two reds dots to right.
Probably a few weeks overdue, the Marlins called up Dean on Aug. 15. He started 31 of their final 40 games and will always have the distinction of being the final player to make direct contact with the home run sculpture:
Dean came with a reputation for getting down the first-base line well despite lacking in world-class physical gifts. Statcast data backs up that observation—his Sprint Speed in 2018 was 28.1 feet per second, which ranked in the 76th percentile among all major leaguers. The Marlins qualifier directly ahead of him was All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto (28.6 ft/sec).
Wasting little time after the end of his baseball season, Dean hustled to propose to longtime girlfriend Sarah Kirby. They will be tying the knot on Nov. 30.
Well she said yes !! Happy Birthday too my fiancé! pic.twitter.com/0CQq2qD3af— Austin Dean (@AustinDean_3) October 4, 2018
He is one of the team’s best social media follows (@austindean_3 on both Twitter and Instagram).
All that being said, the young left fielder has more work ahead to prove he belongs with the Fish in 2019 and beyond. Kyle Glaser of Baseball America found that the average major league reserve outfielder hit .283/.357/.439 as a farmhand; Dean slashed slightly worse than that (.280/.343/.416) during his minor league career. And it’s not like he brings any added value with defensive versatility. Players with his résumé are often very expendable at the highest level.
The critical question is whether 2018 was just an exciting career year, or if Dean can continue optimizing his body and his game to succeed against MLB competition.