Marlins' first retired number ... Bleday?

2019 first-round Draft pick has face-of-the-franchise potential

April 9th, 2020

MIAMI -- When the Marlins selected JJ Bleday with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 Draft, they believed they had found a future face of the franchise.

The 22-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder has the potential to be a perennial All-Star and long-term iconic fixture in the Marlins’ lineup. And if his career path plays out the way Miami hopes, Bleday may very well become the first Marlins player to ever have his jersey number officially retired.

That, of course, is looking far into the future. Still, it could be a distinct possibility.

Bleday wore No. 51 at Vanderbilt, where he was part of the 2019 national championship team, and in his first season of pro ball. For the Marlins, that was last worn by Ichiro Suzuki, who promises to have his number retired some day by the Mariners.

Barring a change when he eventually reaches the big leagues, Marlins jerseys with Bleday's No. 51 could very well be in high demand.

Since their inaugural season in 1993, the Marlins have never retired a player's number. Previously, No. 5 was retired in honor of the late Carl Barger, the organization’s first team president. Barger passed in '92, before the Marlins played a game. The No. 5 was retired as a tribute, because Barger’s all-time favorite player was Joe DiMaggio.

But in 2012, No. 5 was unretired for Logan Morrison.

The closest number to being officially retired by Miami is No. 16, last worn by the late José Fernández. While that number is not retired, it’s also not available.

And of course, No. 42 has been retired by MLB for all 30 clubs as a tribute to Jackie Robinson.

The Marlins have had internal discussions regarding establishing protocols for retiring numbers, but they don’t have any specifics at this time.

Besides Bleday, there could be some interesting candidates. Prospects like right-handers and and shortstop have tremendous upside and like Bleday, they project to be part of the Marlins' long-term core. Currently on the big league roster is third baseman , who is getting closer to his prime and has All-Star potential.

But Bleday may have the most upside. Ranked by MLB Pipeline as Miami’s No. 2 prospect, he also is ranked No. 28 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list.

In 2019, he paced the NCAA with 27 home runs, while hitting .354.

“We always go for the most impactful piece,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said last June after the club selected Bleday in the first round. “There were some very impactful college bats at the top of the Draft. So, good for us that we had the opportunity to evaluate those college bats. We're happy to add one to the mix, and to give us another potential impactful position-player piece that will help us win championships here.”

After signing with the Marlins, Bleday played at Class A Advanced Jupiter, and he either will open the upcoming season there or move up to Double-A Jacksonville.

In 38 games at Jupiter last season, Bleday hit .257/.311/.379 with three homers and 19 RBIs in 151 plate appearances.

As a non-roster invitee, Bleday was in his first big league Spring Training camp this year. In the Marlins’ first Grapefruit League game, on Feb. 22 against the Mets, Bleday singled to right off lefty Chasen Shreve, who has 218 games of MLB experience.

Marlins chief executive officer Derek Jeter, accompanied by other club officials, got a close look at Bleday, attending a Vanderbilt game in the Southeastern Conference Tournament last year in Hoover, Ala. Bleday had five hits that day against Auburn University.

DJ Svihlik, the Marlins' director of amateur scouting, previously was a hitting coach at Vanderbilt, and he has a history with Bleday.

“Given my track record with Vanderbilt, my history with JJ, and a first-year scouting director, that was a special pick one,” Svihlik said after selecting Bleday. “He's an extremely talented player. He's always been a very gifted hitter. I've seen him grow over the years. To select a premium college bat that's as established as him is really exciting, for both myself personally, but more importantly, this organization. I think we got a really exciting player."