JJ Bleday is raking. After a disappointing 2021 season in AA, where Bleday’s batting average didn’t exceed .216 after May 16, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to say those words.
Although Bleday put up impressive stats and was selected to share the award for league’s best hitter in the Arizona Fall League, it was somewhat unconvincing—the AFL is known to be an extremely hitter friendly league. The pitching prospects who participate aren’t of the same talent level as the position players and the run environment reflects that. To put it into perspective, the Dodgers led MLB in runs/game last year with 5.05. Every team but one exceeded that in the AFL.
But now, Mr. Bleday is officially on a hot streak.
He started this year with AAA Jacksonville in similar fashion to which he ended the prior MiLB season: poorly. However, in his ten most recent games, the former fourth-overall pick has seemingly done a 180. Over this stretch, Bleday is hitting .378 with an OBP of .489. He has boosted his slash line from .159/.321/286 on April 27 to his current, respectable line of .240/.382/.470. He looks like a completely different hitter.
Not only has he been getting on base, but he’s also making tons of loud contact, consistently barreling balls for extra bases. He’s racked up three doubles and four homers during these ten games. He left the yard in three consecutive games at one point, something he hadn’t even accomplished during the AFL.
Most of Bleday’s peripherals are pointing in the right direction. He is drawing walks at an elite rate (17.1% of his plate appearances). His 29.0% groundball rate is the lowest among qualified Marlins MiLB players. And when Bleday does elevate the ball, it’s landing over the fence 15.4% of the time via FanGraphs—that home run to flyball ratio is nearly doubled his previous career standard. His preseason muscle gains are finally paying dividends on the diamond.
JJ Bleday upper body size comparison, spring 2021 vs. spring 2022 pic.twitter.com/Dha3mlY6fD— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) March 22, 2022
So all signs point to a midseason call-up in 2022, right? Well, not so fast. There is one major thing that does worry me.
Every time he’s down in a count, he looks like it’s his first time picking up a baseball bat. Shield your eyes, Bleday believers. In his 31 at-bats ending in pitcher’s counts, he’s hitting .032/.032/.064 with 16 punchouts. He is not quite “advanced” enough yet to salvage much of anything from those challenging situations.
Obviously, we’re all rooting for Bleday to shine and maximize the incredible potential that he was drafted with, even more so now seeing the major league team’s outfield struggle mightily. Marlins outfielders lead MLB in strikeouts and ranks 24th in OPS. Meanwhile, Bleday has gotten reps at all three outfield positions, preparing him to help at whichever spot becomes available.
There are most definitely reasons to be excited about given Bleday’s recent successes—let’s just not get overexcited. Until we can see the consistency show in each and every one of his at-bats over his next two or three series, it’d be premature to jump on the bandwagon…again.