Saturday, February 11, 2023

A glimpse inside the book at the newest A, JJ Bleday

With JJ Bleday being traded to the Athletics today in exchange for lefthander A.J. Puk, here's a glimpse inside Major League Debuts at the writeup for the young outfielder, who made his first big-league appearance for Miami last July.

JJ Bleday, OF, Marlins

B-T: L-L HT: 6-3 WT: 205 Born: Nov. 10, 1997, Danville, Pa.

Debut Age: 24

Debut: July 23. Jorge Soler landing on the IL with back spasms provided an opening for the Marlins to add Bleday from Triple-A Jacksonville, where he had collected extra-base hits in six of his last seven games. The Western Pennsylvania native joined the team in Pittsburgh for a Saturday evening contest, entering in the home half of the seventh as a defensive replacement in left field. His first action came an inning later when he tracked down a deep fly off the bat of Pirates left fielder Ben Gamel. In the top of the ninth, with the Marlins trailing 1-0, he came to the plate with one out and no one on. Bleday battled Pirates closer David Bednar to a full count, eventually drawing a walk after seven pitches. He was stranded at first when Avisail Garcia struck out and Joey Wendle grounded to second to end the game.

Background: Bleday grew up two hours north of Pittsburgh, attending Titusville HS as a freshman and sophomore. His family then moved to Florida, where he finished his prep years at Mosley HS in Lynn Haven. Bleday made quite the first impression in his Mosley debut, belting a two-run homer and striking out the first seven batters he faced as the starting pitcher, finishing with 11 Ks on the day. A first-team all-state selection both years at Mosley, Bleday committed to Vanderbilt as a junior, and stuck with his college plans when the Padres burned their 39th-round pick on him in 2016. After hitting .256/.384/.342 while walking more than he struck out as a freshman, Bleday raised his average more than 100 points in 2018, leading the Commodores with a .368 mark. He still hadn’t broken through as a power hitter yet, tallying just four home runs among his 10 extra-base hits. But something clicked into place that summer in the Cape Cod League, where Bleday hit .311/.374/.500 with five home runs for Orleans and was named the top pro prospect in a poll of scouts. His power exploded during his junior season, when he topped all NCAA Div. I hitters with 27 home runs and 192 total bases while slashing .347/.465/.701. Deep in pitching but desperate for some high-end offensive talent, the Marlins took the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year with the fourth overall pick, but had to wait to begin negotiations while Vanderbilt completed its season. After helping Vandy win the College World Series, he finally came to terms on signing deadline day for a club-record $6.67 million bonus. The Marlins sent him to High-A Jupiter, where he struggled initially, hitting .187/.208/.293 over his first 20 games. Over his final 18 contests, however, Bleday batted .338/.419/.477 in 74 plate appearances. After the pandemic year, he again got off to a slow start, hitting .141/.284/.235 over the first month at Double-A Pensacola. But while he enjoyed several short hot spells, he never put it all together, and finished at .212/.323/.373. He was still racking up the walks, but nothing else was translating to the pro game. The first glimpses came in the 2021 Arizona Fall League, where he hit .316/.435/.600 in 115 plate appearances after making some adjustments to his stance and his hands.

2022 Season: Bleday’s goal entering the season was to carry over the improvements he’d made to his swing in the AFL. It didn’t happen. He hit just .189 in April for Jacksonville. At the end of May his average stood at .201. It wasn’t until June that he began to drive the ball with much regularity. With the Marlins struggling to score runs, his 20 long balls looked tempting enough to give him a try. It started off promising, as Bleday picked up two hits the day after his debut, singling in his first official at-bat and driving a double to deep center field in the ninth. His first home run came three days later off righthander Luis Castillo in his final game as a Red. But Bleday struggled to build on his successes, often going three or four games between hits. Clearly overmatched, he hit just .135/.248/.214 in 105 September and October plate appearances. On the positive side, half of his 34 hits went for extra bases, and he drew 30 walks, helping to keep his OBP afloat. All 30 came against righthanders, however, as he slashed an abysmal .163/.163/.279 in 43 plate appearances versus lefties.

Outlook: Whether Bleday answered any questions as a rookie or simply asked different ones is a matter of interpretation. Miami has 6.67 million reasons to be patient with him. He might benefit from some more time down on the farm, where he can diagnose his swing out of the spotlight. 

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