Entering this Minor League Baseball season, JJ Bleday was considered by many to be the very best hitting prospect in the Marlins organization. When you’re ranked that highly and you struggle so heavily for an extended period, it’s normal for people to start freaking out.
That was the case for Bleday, playing for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos at Double-A. The former first-round draft pick (No. 4 overall in 2019) was supposed to perform well from the beginning. Health permitting, he was projected to debut for the big league club during the middle of the season.
Well, Bleday’s age-23 campaign has not lived up to those expectations.
Through his first 66 games of 2021, he got 47 hits with 10 doubles, one triple, and six home runs. Bleday drove in 26 runs, scored 30 times, compiled 39 walks, and struck out 59 times. The only adequate part of his offensive game during that span was his .308 OBP, but the lack of extra-base hits culminated in a lowly .629 OPS.
But, fortunately, something has clicked for him since late July. Across 11 games dating back to July 21, Bleday has registered 10 hits, including eight extra-bases: four doubles, one triple, three four-baggers. Over that period, the outfielder recorded seven ribbies, 11 runs, seven bases on balls, and 11 strikeouts, besides posting a strong .278/.422/.694 slash line.
Finally, we’re seeing the JJ Bleday we all know. “We might be on the cusp of a breakthrough,” says Blue Wahoos broadcaster Chris Garagiola.
It's the 2nd inning and guess who already has a single and two-run triple?— Pensacola Blue Wahoos (@BlueWahoosBBall) August 1, 2021
JJ Bleday. pic.twitter.com/wyEeesANMV
Bleday, who ranks eighth in walks among Double-A players (46), has made a quality jump in his BB% from 7.3 in his 2019 professional debut at High-A to 14.2. But on the other hand, his K% climbed from 19.2 to 21.6, while also his LD% (line drive percentage) decreased from 23.9 to 17.2.
Much of the negative vibe surrounding Bleday is through no fault of his own. He’s being compared to his peers who were selected early in the 2019 draft, like major leaguers Andrew Vaughn (White Sox) and Alex Manoah (Blue Jays) and Futures Game selections Adley Rutschman (Orioles), Bobby Witt Jr. (Royals), CJ Abrams (Padres), Nick Lodolo (Reds) and Bryson Stott (Phillies).
But it’s definitely not too late for Bleday. There’s still time ahead for him to earn a Marlins call-up in September if he continues to rake. Regardless, there is a huge role that the organization is trusting him to fill in their outfield for 2022 and beyond.