Dean navigates new terrain in Pacific Coast League

Albuquerque Isotopes’ Pat Dean delivers a pitch during a game this season. After playing the last two years in South Korea, Dean, a Naugatuck High alumnus, is back in the minor league and working for another opportunity to make it back to the Majors. -TIM MARCH

The one thing that has kept Pat Dean around for the past ten years as a professional baseball pitcher is his ability to make the most out of his opportunities.

Dean’s decade long journey has taken him to the bright lights of the big show with the Minnesota Twins and across the world for a two-year stint in South Korea with the Kia Tigers of the KBO League.

In February, the Twins signed the former Naugatuck High pitcher to a minor league contract in a second go-around with the organization, and the left-hander was invited to spring training.

“It’s certainly great to be back pitching in the states,” Dean said. “Looking forward to the opportunity to make it back to the Majors, I just need to go out there and show what I can do.”

Dean didn’t allow a run in four of his six appearances in spring training with Minnesota but was the victim of a numbers’ game, as the pitching-heavy Twins released him on the final day of camp.

It didn’t take long for Dean to find another opportunity. That came when Dean’s former minor league manager with the New Britain Rock Cats, Stan Cilburn, came calling and the lanky lefty was off to play for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League.

“It certainly was a fun experience playing for one of my former managers,” Dean said. “I did well and was able to get the most out of the opportunity.”

Dean opened up some eyes in his two starts with the Blue Crabs, allowing just one run and striking out 17 in 11 innings. In May, the Colorado Rockies signed Dean, and he packed his bags for Albuquerque, N.M., to pitch for the Isotopes, Colorado’s Triple-A affiliate, in the Pacific Coast League.

Pitching in the desert air has its challenges, Dean surrendered four runs in the first inning in each of his first three starts.

“Obviously there has been a big controversy among pitchers about the balls being juiced,” Dean said. “The PCL has always been a hitter-friendly league. The altitude and desert air certainly helps that.

“Albuquerque is about 100 feet higher than Denver, so it does present its challenges. I’m definitely feeling a lot more comfortable now. When I first got here I was experimenting with different arm angles and got a little shoulder fatigue.”

Through his first five games, Dean pitched 20 innings and allowed 13 home runs. The wily veteran then began to turn things around.

“I went back to my older arm slot and it’s been more comfortable,” he said. “I wish I had better numbers at this point, but there is a lot of season left and looking to finish strong.

“The coaches have been really good with me, especially coming in here and not being one of their guys. They were really good about helping me through the rough start. They like my work ethic and the character I bring to the table.”

Dean put together three quality starts in a row, going 19 innings with a tidy 3.32 ERA. On July 14, he picked up his third win of the season. He went five innings, allowing six hits and surrendering one run in a 12-3 victory against El Paso in 99 degree heat.

Dean isn’t the only pitcher learning to pitch in the desert. Twelve of the 16 teams in the league had a team ERA over 5.

Colorado is known for giving its pitchers an opportunity, as the team has promoted 73 percent of its pitchers to the Major League over the past five seasons. Dean is looking make the most of his latest opportunity, as are the Isotopes.

As of last week, the team was 43-55 and 16 games back in the league. But Dean felt the team can make a run.

“It’s been tough for the team collectively, but I know we are all looking forward to turning this around in the second half,” he said. “There is a lot of talent on this team and if we can put together a little run, we can get back in this thing.”