Bleday leads Vandy trio in Miami camp

March 14th, 2021

JUPITER, Fla. -- Under the bright lights of the 2019 College World Series, soaked in his surroundings with three outs to go. Then a sophomore at Vanderbilt, the left-hander tried to relax despite the adrenaline pumping through his veins.

Nearly two years later, three members of that national title-winning Commodores squad have participated in Marlins big league camp this spring: Eder, MLB Pipeline's No. 20 overall prospect and left-hander Zach King. Eder and King were reassigned Wednesday. A fourth member of that Vandy ballclub, infielder Julian Infante, was not among the non-roster invites.

"I think it's awesome," Bleday said. "It's great to have that camaraderie from Vandy transfer over into professional baseball. It gives me a sense of comfort, because you have those guys around that you've known for the previous four years. Just friendships that can stick around in this game, and having that is very appreciative and fun to have."

During that championship-clinching game, Eder pitched the final three innings. Over the course of that 2019 season, Bleday led the nation with 27 homers, Infante was the starting first baseman and King finished strong out of the bullpen. Eder, the youngest of the quartet, was chosen in the fourth round of last summer's MLB Draft after the Marlins selected the other three the year prior. After countless hours spent together in college on and off the field, they have been reunited in Miami's organization.

The 22-year-old Eder grew up a Marlins fan in Boynton Beach, Fla., and went to games as a kid, including a few at Marlins Park. The southpaw endearingly recalled flipping over a couch in excitement with his friend and mom when pitcher Dontrelle Willis hit a grand slam in 2006.

With the 6-foot-4 southpaw still on the board on Draft day, the Marlins decided to add to their already deep pitching pool. Per director of amateur scouting DJ Svihlik, Eder fit the mold that year of a big body with really good stuff from a top collegiate program. Miami's 23rd-ranked prospect had been on the club's radar since his time at the Cape Cod Baseball League the summer before.

"He started to turn the corner at Vanderbilt his junior year," Svihlik said. "He was always a very high-profile prospect. But he was very inconsistent at Vanderbilt, and it looked like he was turning the corner. ... To be able to get him in the fourth round with his pitch package, the breaking ball and the fastball up at 96 [mph], and being left-handed and a local boy -- it's not the reason you take him. Local guy was kind of icing on the cake."

Bleday found out the Marlins had selected Eder on Twitter and sent a congratulatory text. King followed up with a FaceTime call the following day. Bleday, who was picked fourth overall in the 2019 MLB Draft, saw Eder a few weeks later in Jupiter when he reported to the alternate training site. Eder happened to be training at Cressey Sports Performance a highway exit away from the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex.

Throughout this spring, countless members of the Marlins' organization have used the word "polished" to describe Bleday. It's no coincidence. The Vanderbilt program has won two national championships and prepares its players for the next level of their careers. According to Baseball-Reference, 193 Vandy alumni have played professional baseball. Bleday credits head coach Tim Corbin and his staff for emphasizing accountability, leadership and attention to detail. That foundation easily transfers over in the mind of Marlins director of Minor League operations Geoffrey DeGroot.

"Definitely a common denominator that we've seen there, and that's just the professionalism," DeGroot said. "They know how to behave and act as a professional as soon as they walk in the door. And that's been consistent with all those guys. They're very respectful, they're hard-working, they take care of their business, they're good teammates. Everything that you would evaluate a professional on, those guys have that. They just know how to go about their business.

"Any time you're picking someone from that program, that's what you're going to get. That's a pretty reassuring thing. ... That's definitely something that we've noticed is just their overall professionalism and makeup is something that we're very fond of."

With no Minor League season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vandy boys found ways to validate that statement. Eder, who is learning to play the guitar and speak Spanish, threw live batting practice for three weeks leading up to the fall instructional league. He is also taking two online courses (biology and sociology through baseball) as he nears his degree. King remained in Tennessee and trained alongside program alumni and Major Leaguers and .

"Every chance I get to question something that I'm doing, or curious about something, I'll reach out, even down here," said King, who was drafted in the 13th round in 2019. "Especially down here in big league camp with all these older guys that have had the experience. So just trying to pick their brains and try to better myself."

After learning from his experience in the Gulf Coast League in 2019, when he posted a 0.918 WHIP in six outings (three starts) to begin his professional career, King paid it forward by taking Eder under his wing early on. The 22-year-old lefty gave Eder tips on how things are done -- from what to wear to the field to the importance of creating a daily routine.

Though neither King nor Eder will appear in a Grapefruit League game this spring, the chance just to be at big league camp was huge. Without pro games in 2020, prospects will embrace any opportunity to further their development.

"I came in and we kind of started fairly slow and built up fairly quick, and got to play and get on a schedule," Eder said of instructional league. "For me, I just had a blast. And I'm having a blast right now."

Of the four Vandy boys, Bleday is the most highly touted and the closest to being big league-ready. The 23-year-old is 3-for-12 with three runs, one double, one homer, two walks and one outfield assist so far this spring. Asked earlier in camp whether it was out of the realm of possibility for Bleday to make his Major League debut sometime in 2021, manager Don Mattingly said no.

How Bleday performs and continues to progress will determine when that debut comes. His teammate King referenced a quote from rookie lefty , who debuted in 2020 and is competing for a spot on the '21 Opening Day roster: He would rather a position be earned than given. Miami's deep farm system pushes every individual to have that mindset.

"I just remember that run from the bullpen in the outfield all the way to the dogpile," King said of the 2019 collegiate title. "That was one of the coolest moments, and hopefully someday we'll be able to do that with the Marlins."