A good leadoff hitter does all of the following: get on base, swing at good pitches and run the bases well. Typically, a leadoff hitter bats in that position at the beginning of the game unless the inning ends on the ninth batter. But the good ones maintain their focus throughout the game and at every plate appearance.
Indian River’s senior shortstop Josh Dean is such a player.
He hustles to and from the dugout, runs the bases like a gazelle and wields a consistent bat.
“A leadoff batter has to set the tempo by getting on and spark the team,” Dean said. “I like to run the bases aggressively to get that extra base – turn a double into a triple because something stupid can always score you.”
Dean mentioned that he admires Major Leaguers Miguel Tejada and Kaliel Green (both shortstops) for the way they play the game, but he attributed his developed skills and passion for the game to playing against older competition as a youngster.
He is five years younger than his older brother, Brock, who attends Wesley College, and than his friends Brandon McCabe and Justin Hoben – but Dean wanted to play with the big boys. For him, there was no other way to reach his goal of playing collegiate baseball.
“If you run by yourself, you’re only going to get so fast,” explained Dean. “Playing against older kids makes you focus to play better.”
Dean batted leadoff for the Indians last year and led the conference with eight homeruns and though his homerun totals have fallen off slightly thus far (at two), his hitting has only improved.
“Last year I was on a homerun thing, but this year I’ve changed my focus to hit singles, into the gaps and just get on base,” he said.
Dean has seven multi-hit games and has reached base safely in every game.
Dean credits his new stroke to taking quality swings instead of quantity swings, which isn’t easy – especially batting in a vulnerable position.
“You see better pitches deeper in the lineup but you also have more pressure to knock in runs,” Dean said. “This year I’ve tried to take good, quality swings instead of taking a lot of swings. If you’re lucky – you’ll only get three or four good cuts a game.”
Before he even gets a hit, Dean mentioned, there are a number of reads he’ll make before actually taking a swing. But unlike the recent television commercial in which Derrick Jeter and Josh Beckett appear – there is little thinking in the batter’s box.
“Sometimes you have to know how to get on base,” he said. “You have to look at the defense. Is the third-baseman on his heels? If he is, then I can lay down a bunt? I try to see what pitch the pitcher is throwing and look for defensive shifts. If you see his palm, it’s a fastball; wrist, it’s a curveball. But if you think too much in the batter’s box, it’s a certain out.”
Dean’s hitting strategy has limited his strikeouts (three so far) and kept him out of the scorer’s box once all season, against Seaford.
Dean, like most ballplayers have hitting down to a science, but his rule for defense is easy – 100 percent focus.
“Staying focused is a big part of the game,” Dean said. “My three errors this season were because I didn’t focus on one little thing. If you’re 100 percent focused on every play, then it puts you in a position to win.”
While Indian River still has nearly half the season left to play, Dean is already eyeing up an opening-day outfield position for his first choice school – Eastern Carolina University. He played centerfield for Post 28 Legion team and mentioned a desire to return to the position.
“I’d rather play outfield because you can play ball without a worry,” he said.
Following a 5-4 loss to Indian River, Newark Head Coach Butch Simpson raved over Dean’s play at shortstop and set him up as an example for his players to follow.
“He’s a fine shortstop,” Simpson raved. “He’s so smooth and made a number of tough plays look easy out there. He’s a college player – a step above in my opinion.”
Teammate Colin Warner is confident that Dean will be able to play wherever he wants.
“He’s one of the best leadoff hitters in the state – in my opinion,” Warner said. “You can always count on him to put the ball in play and that gives the guys behind him some momentum. But he’ll end up playing somewhere in college – you can bet on it.”