'I'm here': Marlins No. 4 prospect Bleday debuts in home state

July 24th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- One of the Marlins’ top Draft picks has received the callup.

JJ Bleday, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 Draft and the team’s No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, joined the team in Pittsburgh on Saturday. He was not in the starting lineup for Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Pirates, but he did make his debut in the seventh inning, batting fourth and playing in left field. In the eighth, Bleday caught Ben Gamel's fly ball to left, and in the ninth, Bleday walked in his first career plate appearance.

"It looked like he fouled one back that he just missed and took some pitches," manager Don Mattingly said of Bleday's first plate appearance. "A really quality at-bat, and I think that's really been the trademark of JJ -- he's going to put at-bats together."

Bleday had a 5:30 a.m. wakeup time to catch a flight for Pittsburgh, but he looked energized as ever getting field work done on his first day.

“It’s been surreal the past 24 hours,” Bleday said. “We get done with the game last night, and then [Triple-A Jacksonville manager Daren] Brown calls me back into the office and he said, ‘You’re probably going to be on the taxi squad, you’re going to be up there but get ready to play.’”

Jorge Soler was placed on the 10-day injured list to clear space on the active roster. Mattingly removed Soler from Friday’s 8-1 win over the Pirates and said after the game that the outfielder was dealing with some back stiffness. Mattingly added Saturday that Soler is being tested, though the team is awaiting results.

Bleday, 24, showed up to Spring Training this year with more muscle and he reaped the rewards of that offseason work by knocking a career-best 20 homers in 85 games for the Jumbo Shrimp. But his plate discipline has not faltered with the rise in power; his .365 on-base percentage this year is the best of his pro career.

“I don’t go up to the plate looking to walk,” Bleday said of his plate discipline. “I go up to the plate looking to swing the bat, and I let the walks dictate themselves throughout the course and the quality of the at-bat. But for the most part, I’m going up there trying to be aggressive and for the most part trying to get a pitch to hit.”

The Marlins have seen the outfielder, who Mattingly said can play all three spots at the Major League level, at Spring Training for three years, and it’s given them a lot to look forward to in his first MLB stint.

“I think what I like is that everything he does, he does well,” Mattingly said. “He’s a good baserunner, he plays defense, knows what he’s doing on the field, handles at-bats, all of that. Now, it’s a matter of making adjustments at this level with the pitching.”

Bleday has a strong track record dating back to his college days, when he helped lead Vanderbilt to the 2019 College World Series title. Then and now, scouts have tried to get a read on what kind of hitter he could be long term, but the Marlins think he’s close to being as well-rounded a batter as one can be.

"When we took JJ, one of the big conversations was, 'Is he a hitter with power? Is it a power hitter? What is it?'" Marlins senior director of amateur scouting DJ Svihlik said before the 2022 Draft. "Well, the game's kind of defining it, and we try to define our hitters by guys that collect high on-base percentage, high slug percentage, high batting averages, collect hits, those kinds of things. JJ, at least this year, has turned into this, like, high slug, high on-base percentage guy. Now I think if he can collect a few more hits, you can have more of a complete hitter."

Though the Marlins just ended their franchise-record-tying streak of 37 scoreless innings Friday, they are still looking for more production from the offense, and Bleday provides a left-handed look to replace Jazz Chisholm Jr.'s in the lineup.

Pittsburgh is an interesting point of arrival for Bleday, who grew up in Titusville, Pa., a small town a few hours’ drive north of Pittsburgh, before he moved to Florida. One of Bleday’s favorite players growing up as a Pirates fan was Neil Walker, a Pittsburgh native and Pirates fan favorite who now serves as the Bucs’ color analyst on AT&T Sportsnet and who Bleday hopes to see around the ballpark.

“In the back of my mind, I always thought, ‘Man, it would be cool to do this in Pittsburgh,’” Bleday said, “and lo and behold, I’m here.”

And those who have seen Bleday play in the Minors this season know just what he's capable of doing now that he's arrived.

"He's one of the best hitters we have, and he's one of the best hitters I've seen in all Minor League baseball," said right-hander Max Meyer. "I'm so happy for him."