By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Every professional baseball player wants to move up the ladder of an organization, and Matt Dean was no different.
Yet, Dean is back in Bluefield for a second season, but is simply glad to playing professional baseball, no matter where it might be.
“It has been good, you get bumps in the road every now and then, but no one said it was going to be easy,” Dean said. “You have got to keep the big picture in your mind and just keep working for it.”
Dean will do that in Bluefield, much like his did last season, but he isn’t upset about the decision.
“I really wasn’t too mad,” Dean said. “I know wherever I have got to go I have got to play so I am just grateful for the opportunity and I am just going to make the most of it.”
A 13th round draft choice out of Highland Village, Texas, the 20-year-old Dean is one of six Blue Jays who have returned for a second year of tutelage in the Appalachian League.
Like the rest of the returnees, Dean knows he needs to work on all aspects of his chosen profession.
I would just say everything about my game,” Dean said. “You can never be as good at fielding or hitting as you want to be. It is not just one thing, I am just going to try and get better this whole year.”
Dean enjoyed his tenure in Bluefield last summer, and has tried to help the newcomers understand what lies ahead in the Appalachian League.
“I did, I enjoyed it a lot, we have a great fan base, they get out there every night and cheer us on so I can’t ask for anything better than that,” Dean said. “I couldn’t tell you how many questions I have gotten about Bluefield, I try to give them a heads up of what we have got out here and they are all excited, they are ready to get after it.”
So is Dean, who passed up a scholarship offer to the University of Texas, which is a college baseball powerhouse in most seasons.
“At the end of the day my dream was to get to the big leagues,” said Dean, a longtime fan of the Texas Rangers and Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter. “I was going to get the opportunity to play professional baseball so I just felt like I wanted to take the opportunity and get after it.”
He started strong in his first professional season, batting .290 last June, but struggled over final two months and finished with a batting clip of .222.
“I think I just got cold maybe,” said the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Dean. “It was my first year, and kind of towards the end the season maybe I was getting tired, but I have been working out so I am ready to get after it this year.”
That year of experience should benefit Dean, who did drive in 24 runs, and showed pop, clubbing eight doubles, four triples and two home runs. He also scored 22 runs and swiped three bases.
“I think it is huge, the first year in pro ball, you kind of don’t know what to expect, but I have a year under my belt,” said Dean, who is ranked among the Top 30 prospects in the Toronto organization. “I kind of have an idea of what I am getting myself into so just get after it every day and just hope for the best.”
Dean, who was a Rawlings second team All-America selection as a high school performer in 2011, faces adjustments, from the pinpoint accuracy of many Appalachian League hurlers to the change in bats.
“I think I am kind of used to the wood bats now,” said Dean, who struck out 60 times, compared to 12 walks last summer. “I think as long as I am getting the good pitches to hit and not swinging at what they are trying to get me out with I will be all right...
“The pitchers can locate for the most part. They can locate one to two of their pitches so I think that is the biggest adjustment I had to make was that right there.”
While Dean played third base exclusively last season, he expects to see some action at third and first as he continues to work on getting better with the glove.
“I did OK last year,” said Dean, who had 24 errors at the hot corner in 2012. “I felt like I got a lot better in extended spring training, I just have to keep working and hopefully things will work out.”
What Dean did learn over last season and through extended spring training is simply getting used to playing baseball every day of the week.
“Somewhat it was, we practice and play every day in Florida, but those are day games,” he said. “One of the adjustments was playing night games too, getting back to the night games and getting back to the swing of things at night.”
While the object of the Appalachian League is to develop players to move up the system, Dean says it is still important to win games.
“At the end of the day we want to get that ‘W’,” Dean said. “I think if we play hard and continue to work, I think will help us as a player and as a team.”
So will playing for Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg, who has won more than 1,300 games in 26 seasons in minor league dugouts.
“A great guy to play for, he makes it fun for us, he is not uptight, he is relaxed, he expects us to give it our all every night,” Dean said. “I enjoy playing for him and he makes it fun for us and I think that is what we need at this level down here.”
As for the prospects of the Blue Jays challenging for Bluefield’s first Appalachian League title since 2001, don’t count them out.
“I think we are going to be pretty good this year,” Dean said. “I have played with most of them, we have got a few new guys, but just watching those guys swing it and throw it a little bit, I think we are going to be pretty good. We will see.”
—Contact Brian Woodson