Bleday focuses on hitting accuracy over power
Marlins outfield prospect JJ Bleday brings a hit-first, old-school approach into the new age of big power and high strikeouts
By Joe Frisaro @ManOn2nd
Strikeouts bother JJ Bleday.
Obviously, they’re part of the game — a huge part. With so much pitching velocity in the game, even the best batters strikeout their share of time.
Still, it doesn’t mean Bleday has to like them, and he doesn’t. This is an interesting take, because the Miami Marlins’ 23-year-old outfield prospect has a chance to be an impactful power hitter.
As Bleday inches closer to being big league ready, he projects to be a “hit first, power later” type of hitter. His development shows there aren’t many signs that he will be an all-or-nothing offensive player.
“It started at a young age,” Bleday said on Monday in a Zoom call. “I hate striking out. I hate giving up at-bats like that, and not putting the ball in play, and not having a team at-bat, and at least creating the chance for the defense to make a mistake.”
Bleday put the ball in play in a big way on Sunday in the Marlins’ 6-1 win at the Houston Astros in the Grapefruit League opener. The left-handed hitting outfielder impacted the ball in a big way, with an impressively struck home run to left-center.
The hit-first mentality sticks with Bleday as much today as when he started playing.
“Just really emphasizing accuracy over power,” Bleday said. “If you sacrifice accuracy for power, at least for me personally, I get into a tough position. You’re just kind of wasting stuff.
“If you’re aggressive and you keep that accuracy first over power, you’re eventually going to keep getting better as a hitter.”
The players Bleday admired when he was growing up exemplified those qualities.
Three players Bleday enjoyed watching are: Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds and Robinson Cano.
“They’re all lefties,” Bleday said. “Barry just had a phenomenal mindset at the plate, and was so unbeatable. Cano had such a sweet swing, and Griffey was just The Kid. He did everything naturally.”
The Marlins made Bleday the fourth overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. In his final season at Vanderbilt, Bleday showed the foundation for being a well-rounded hitter. His slash line was off the charts, .350/.464/.717. His OPS was a 1.181.
Those digits remind that Bleday’s has advanced bat-to-ball skills. You then add in he belted 26 home runs, and 69 RBIs, and you have the makings of a middle of the order impact bat for years to come.
Add in the fact he had a strikeout rate of 16.56 and a walk percentage of 16.88 on Vanderbilt’s 2019 national title team, and you understand why he went so high in the first round.
“If you’re aggressive and you keep that accuracy first over power, you’re eventually going to keep getting better as a hitter.” — JJ Bleday
Bleday has a small sample size of pro ball play, reaching Class A Advanced Jupiter in 2019. By then he had a full college season, and he added 38 Minor League games. His numbers were modest as he made the adjustment full time to hitting with wooden bats.
In a small sample size, he hit .257 with three homers, eight doubles and 19 RBIs.
Bleday is a left-handed power threat, who has a chance to reach the big leagues at some point in 2021.
Not having a Minor League season in 2020 slowed down all Minor League players last year, but the Marlins created opportunity for Bleday and many other prospects. He was part of their 60-man player pool, and faced the likes of Sandy Alcantara, Sixto Sanchez, Jose Urena and Caleb Smith in scrimmages at the Alternate Training Site at the Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla.
Marlins manager Don Mattingly refers to Bleday as a polished player, in all phases of his game.
“In my mind, this guy is not a guy you feel like, ‘We’ve got to get his outfield play together. Or we’ve got to help him with his baserunning,’ ” Mattingly said. “This is a guy who comes from a great program at Vanderbilt. Those guys have been pretty solid.”