NEW BRITAIN — Given the uncertainty with which Naugatuck’s Pat Dean began his second professional baseball season, he’s poised for a spectacular finish this summer.
“Absolutely,” Dean said. “My arm feels great. My body is in great shape and has held up pretty well for it being the end of August so I am really happy with that. I am definitely excited to be given this opportunity, and I plan on taking advantage of it.”
The opportunity is a chance to pitch in a Double-A pennant race 30 minutes from his home after receiving his second pro¬motion of the season within the Minnesota Twins’ minor league system.
The 22-year-old left-hander started the season on the disabled list with tendonitis in his elbow, and he wasn’t sure what to expect in only his second sea¬son since being selected in the third round of the Major League draft out of Boston College.
By his own admission, it has been an up-and-down year. He was good enough to earn a promotion from the Twins’ Midwest League Single-A team in Beloit, Wis., to a higher Single-A team in Fort Myers, Fla. While he struggled there for a month, he grew enough from that adversity to earn a second promotion, this time to the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats.
He’s ecstatic that he’s a little ahead of even where he expected to be.
“To be honest with you, I figured I was going to finish the year with Fort Myers,” Dean said. “I don’t want to say I would have been OK with that, but knowing that the Twins don’t typically move players too fast through their system I definitely would have understood. This was definitely a nice little bonus.”
Dean said the Twins told him that the Rock Cats needed another quality left-handed pitcher to make their push toward the Eastern League playoffs.
He said he is scheduled to join the team Thursday and would be the Rock Cats’ starting pitcher Friday in New Britain.
“It reassures me that they have a lot of confidence in me,” Dean said. “It is definitely a great feeling to have.”
This season hasn’t been all good feelings. In fact, there have been quite a few rocky, frustrating moments the last month.
Despite spending time on the disabled list for the second-straight season with the elbow tendonitis, his arm feels great now.
He is still throwing consistently around 88-89 mph and occasionally touching 90-91.
He said his struggles weren’t so much due to the tendonitis, but because he is still learning how to pitch given his physical limitations. From youth baseball through lower Single-A pro ball, he was able to overmatch hitters with a quality fastball that he spotted pretty well.
Even this year at Beloit, he was 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA and 37 strikeouts with only nine walks. Once he was promoted to Fort Myers, however, it became obvious he needed more than fastball to succeed. He was 3-6 with a 6.67 ERA and gave up 83 hits in 58 innings.
“Facing all these new challenges, I am willing to do anything I can to overcome everything thrown at me,” Dean said. “If it was extremely easy without these challenges, it wouldn’t be any fun. I feel like as the season has progressed I definitely have gotten a lot smarter.”
He said the biggest improvements have been developing his changeup and learning to mix it in with his slider and curve to make his fastball appear to be faster.
After going through a span of yielding five or more runs in five of six starts between July 23 and Aug. 20, Dean pitched seven strong innings last Friday, allowing just two runs and striking out five with no walks against Charlotte.
“I was working with my pitching coach (Steve Mintz), and he helped me figure out a few things and keep my confidence up,” Dean said. “It definitely went a long way toward getting me back where I want to be, especially after that last outing. I feel like I am back on track. The Twins feel the same way, and that is why they are giving me a shot to pitch with the Rock Cats.”
Despite the uncertain nature of the season overall, Dean said he believes more than ever that he is track to make it to the major leagues.
“I have always thought that I had an opportunity to do it,” Dean said. “So far I have been given a lot of opportunities to make this dream come true, and I plan on taking advantage of them. There have definitely been a lot of hard times because it is a long season and a tough grind, but just getting through it will make the outcome that much sweeter in the end.”