Bleday continues to rake in Arizona Fall League

November 2nd, 2021

MESA, Ariz. -- The Mesa Solar Sox and Peoria Javelinas played to the first tie of the Arizona Fall League season, a wild 15-15, 10-inning affair that featured 28 hits, 23 walks, eight stolen bases and eight errors. On a day filled with superlative offensive performances, stood out the most.

Bleday went 5-for-6, driving in four runs and scoring twice while finishing a triple shy of the cycle. The Marlins outfielder singled and doubled as part of a nine-run first inning, blasted a 396-foot homer at 103 mph off Padres right-hander Jesse Scholtens in the third, singled in the eighth and once more in the 10th as part of the game-tying rally.

The fourth overall pick in the 2019 Draft, Bleday helped Vanderbilt to the College World Series title that spring while topping NCAA Division with 27 homers and 192 total bases. He has been one of the best hitters in the AFL, leading the developmental circuit with 18 RBIs in 12 games while ranking third in hitting (.400) and on-base percentage (.500), fourth in OPS (1.180) and fifth in slugging (.680).

That's no surprise given Bleday's Draft pedigree, but it's a stark contrast to his first full professional season. He batted .141 in April and carried a .199 average into September before finishing at .212/.323/.373 with 12 homers and 101 strikeouts in 110 Double-A games. Looking back, he said his early-season struggles following the 2020 pandemic layoff weighed on him.

"I've been in that situation before my freshman year in college where I was just trying to do too much," Bleday said. "I was trying to be someone I'm not. I was trying to get hits rather than just let the game come to me. I think that kind of builds, it snowballs, it puts more pressure on yourself to go out and perform, rather than go out there and compete and win a ballgame."

Bleday started to look like himself during the final two weeks of the season in September, and he has continued to do so with Mesa. He said he made some adjustments with both his left-handed swing and his approach, and he has been driving the ball consistently ever since.

"It's just toning down my hands and just making sure my lower half is going," Bleday said. "And I've got the intent to attack a fastball every pitch. When you have that, it kind of simplifies your thinking and allows you to just see ball, hit ball."

Bleday certainly has hit the ball in Arizona. He has collected three or more hits in three of his last five Fall League games after doing so just three times during the entire Minor League season. He has plated four or more runs three times after not having collecting that many RBIs in any of his Double-A games.

"I was really hoping I could get some games either here or in the Dominican Republic," he said. "I was really wanting to play and expand on what I was doing later in the season. That feeling kind of stuck with me and I wanted to kind of keep grooving that and getting it on a daily basis down here."

Two other Solar Sox went deep as part of the club's 17-hit attack. Athletics catcher Jonah Bride drilled a 373-foot shot off Pirates right-hander Carmen Mlodzinski, and Orioles second baseman Greg Cullen tied the game with a two-run homer (406 feet, 102 mph) in the bottom of the ninth off Pirates righty Bear Bellomy to match Bleday with four RBIs.

Peoria had 11 hits and only one went for extra bases, but those turned into 15 runs thanks to 17 walks, seven steals and six Mesa errors. Pirates second baseman Ji-Hwan Bae (No. 22) scored three runs with an equal number of free passes and swipes.

Both clubs have 7-8-1 records. For the Solar Sox, that's good enough for first place in the East Division, while the Javelinas sit in last place in the West.