JJ Bleday's last full season prior to this one couldn't have gone much better. In 2019, he powered Vanderbilt to the College World Series championship while leading NCAA Division I with 27 homers and 192 total bases. After the Marlins signed him for $6.67 million as the No. 4 overall pick, he went straight to High-A for his pro debut and held his own.
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 Minor League schedule, so Bleday's first full pro season didn't happen until this year. His 2021 didn't go nearly as well as his 2019 did.
Bleday batted just .141 in April and carried a .199 average into September. He hit .311 in the final two weeks of the season, but that only improved his line to .212/.323/.373 with 12 homers and 101 strikeouts in 110 Double-A games, a surprising performance for a prospect who entered 2021 considered to have one of the best combinations of hitting ability and power in the Minors.
Bleday's year didn't end with the regular season, however. Miami sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he'll try to build off his late momentum. At the same time, he's not going to concern himself with the numbers he puts up with the Mesa Solar Sox.
After striking out in each of his four at-bats in the AFL season opener, Bleday rebounded by going 2-for-4 with a double and four RBIs in his second contest. He said he felt sluggish in his first game and tried to be more aggressive his next time out. He focused on trusting his left-handed stroke and staying inside the ball while trying to punish strikes.
That mindset helped him finish the regular season on a high note, and he's looking for the same thing to happen in Arizona.
"The difference was simplifying a few things mechanically but mainly just honing in on a better approach," he said. "And stressing your swing and your belief in yourself to get off your A swing. I'm excited to continue to find that, to continue to bring that every day to the ballpark and make sure that creates a good opportunity for next year."
Marlins hitters in the Fall League
Kameron Misner, OF (No. 22): Perhaps the best all-around athlete in the system, Misner features well-above-average raw power along with plus speed and arm strength. A 2019 supplemental first-round pick out of Missouri, he batted .253/.355/.433 with 12 homers and 26 steals in 102 games this year, mostly in High-A.
Will Banfield, C: One of the best defensive catchers in the 2018 Draft, Banfield has lived up to that billing since signing for $1.8 million as a Georgia high schooler taken in the second round. He has scuffled at the plate, however, batting .180/.258/.308 with six homers in 67 High-A games.
Troy Johnston, 1B/OF: A 17th-round pick out of Gonzaga in 2019, Johnston batted .300/.399/.468 with 15 homers in 120 games between Low-A and High-A in his first full pro season, leading the system in hitting, on-base percentage, OPS (.867) and RBI (85). He has a mature approach and makes repeated hard contact to all fields from the left side of the plate.
Marlins pitchers in the Fall League
Evan Fitterer, RHP (No. 24): A California high schooler who signed for $1.5 million as the first pitcher drafted (fifth round) by the Marlins in 2019, Fitterer has been likened to Kyle Hendricks with better stuff, including a lively low-90s fastball and an upper-70s curveball with depth. He logged a 4.56 ERA with a 27/6 K/BB ratio in 25 2/3 innings in Low-A, missing much of the season with back problems.
Justin Evans, RHP: More of a shortstop than a pitcher at NCAA Division II Columbus State (Ga.), Evans went in 19th round of the 2018 Draft but had Tommy John surgery and didn't make his pro debut until this May. He sat at 93-95 mph with his fastball and flashed a solid curveball while recording a 6.40 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 45 relief innings, mostly in High-A.
Josh Simpson, LHP: Simpson began 2021 as a reliever before his repertoire (92-96 mph fastball, potential plus curveball, cutter, changeup) got him moved to the rotation in mid-August. The 32nd-rounder in 2019 from Columbia posted a 5.91 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings, mostly in High-A.
Jefry Yan, LHP: Originally signed by the Angels out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, Yan got released two years later and didn't resurface in pro ball until the Marlins signed him this April. Though he walked 25 in 31 innings between High-A and Double-A, he had a 2.61 ERA with 51 strikeouts while running his fastball up to 99 mph and showing signs of an average slider.