JUPITER, Fla. -- During fielding drills and batting practice on Friday morning at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex, one player, in particular, turned heads: JJ Bleday. Ranked as MLB Pipeline's No. 71 overall prospect, the 24-year-old outfielder had noticeably filled out his Marlins workout gear, nearly unrecognizable at first glance.
As Bleday tells it, when he arrived at big league camp last spring, he weighed around 190 pounds. He is now between 215-218 pounds at the Marlins' Minor League development camp.
"I feel more grounded when I'm a little bit bigger, have more body control," Bleday said. "And then the main thing, just recovery. My sleep's been better, and overall my body feels a lot more recovered."
Following a stellar showing at the Arizona Fall League, Bleday traveled to southern California to have his body analyzed, coming up with a plan to train more efficiently in accordance with how his body moves. He also credits being more disciplined with his diet, making sure to cut back on sugar and alcohol, and getting in quality nutrition.
If appearance is anything to go by, the Marlins' organization and fans alike will be even more eager to see how the transformation translates to the field. This comes on the heels of Bleday's impressive results to close out the 2021 season and AFL after simplifying his setup. Though his swing stayed the same, he refined his routine and approach. Bleday was named the Fall Stars MVP and Co-Hitter of the Year with a slash line of .316/.435/.600, eight doubles, two triples, five homers and 24 RBIs in 24 games. He tacked on two stolen bases.
It was an encouraging step forward after a disappointing first full season for the fourth overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. Through the first four months, Bleday hit .199/.315/.364 at Double-A Pensacola, but he produced an .826 OPS over 13 games in September. The former NCAA home run champion hadn't struggled that much since competing at the New England Collegiate Baseball League following his freshman year at Vanderbilt.
"I had to go back to that and realize what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong," Bleday said. "The main thing is I'm trusting myself and trusting my swing, and kind of putting that into play what it's supposed to feel like on a daily basis. And that came back to staying inside the baseball and getting back to the basics, just kind of getting in the game and not worrying about results."
What that means for 2022 remains to be seen, but Bleday has one major goal in mind.
"I think it's every kid's dream to make it to the big leagues," Bleday said. "That's obviously my goal, to keep pursuing that on a daily basis. And honestly, just be where my feet are. I know it sounds cliché, but when you're in the moment and when you're where you're supposed to be at mentally on a daily basis, that way you don't get too far ahead and you're not too worried about the expectation rather than the goal at hand. That's it. The main thing is just winning the day, winning each day, whether it's on the field or off the field."