In the plan set forth by Derek Jeter and co. in this new regime of Marlins baseball, JJ Bleday is an integral part to the success the franchise aims to have moving forward. With 2020 being a lost-cause for all of minor league baseball due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Bleday’s arrival to the big leagues will have to wait a year.
The team’s first round pick out of baseball powerhouse Vanderbilt, Bleday finished his collegiate career with a 1.003 OPS, posting a .449 on-base percentage in three seasons under head coach Tim Martin. Bleday set the school record for home runs in a single season, hitting 27 long balls and finishing his junior season with a robust .701 slugging percentage.
An outfielder in his time at Vanderbilt, Bleday projects to be the Marlins’ everyday right fielder in the near future.
In his first season of pro ball after signing in 2019, starting at Advanced-A Jupiter, Bleday performed modestly, hitting .257 with 3 home runs in 38 games. Defensively, Bleday played errorless baseball, racking up 4 assists in 32 games started.
Had the minor league season not been cancelled due to the unforeseen circumstances of the pandemic, Bleday could’ve found himself in Triple-A at some point in 2020, though 2021 will more than likely find the 23 year old back in Jupiter to make up for lost playing time.
Should the universal-DH rule extend into 2021, Bleday’s time clock could be accelerated with first basemen/right fielder Garrett Cooper getting regular at bats at DH. In 2020, Cooper started 18 games at DH and 15 at first, hitting .283 while slugging .500 and finishing with a 130 OPS+.
Defensively, Bleday would represent an upgrade over Cooper in right, as Cooper profiles more at first base or DH longterm, but having Jesus Aguilar on the roster and the possibility of no DH in the National League leaves Cooper limited to right in an effort to keep his bat in the lineup.
While not considered a top notch speedster - with many doubting whether he could man center field in the majors - Bleday’s instincts help offset his lack of speed, which help him profile better in a corner. The 20-80 scouting grades - which assess attributes of amateur and minor league players - grade Bleday’s fielding at a 55, while his arm received a 60, giving him all the makings of a solid defender should he man left or right come his call-up to the majors.
Bleday’s above average arm and hit tools have been compared to current Cincinnati Reds’ outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, though Bleday’s collegiate career projects for him to walk at a better rate than Castellanos. At Vanderbilt, albeit, in a much smaller sample size, Bleday walked in 17.7-percent of his plate appearances, while Castellanos has managed just 6.5-percent in parts of 8 major league seasons.
Were we to ask the question of Bleday’s arrival to Miami with truth serum, all signs point to 2022 as being the most sensible estimation. 2021 should be used as a year for merely getting at bats at the lower levels of minors before considering Bleday an option.
That being said, with left fielder Corey Dickerson only under contract through next season, seeing Bleday in September of next season isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Should the starting rotation, which looks to have a solid nucleus forming thus far in Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, and Sixto Sanchez, further materialize, the decision on whether or not to call Bleday up will be made that much more enticing.