Eight months ago, JJ Bleday celebrated as MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred read off his name during the first round in the 2019 MLB Draft. Now he’s in Jupiter, Fla., proving that the Miami Marlins made the right decision drafting him 4th overall.
“It was exciting, you know. I’m extremely blessed,” Bleday said as he recalled the emotions he felt on draft day. “My family and teammates were there when it happened. I was really honored.”
Bleday had a sensational season in his junior year at Vanderbilt — batting .347 with 27 home runs, earning SEC Baseball Player of the Year and leading the Commodores to a national championship. But for JJ, all that mattered on draft day was the opportunity to continue to play ball. “Honestly,” Bleday admitted, “it was a sigh of relief. It’s like, ‘Alright, this is over. Now I can finally play some baseball without the stress of the draft hanging over me.’”
That JJ Bleday swing looks twice as good in half the speed. pic.twitter.com/2sHHXbPJ6I
— Jupiter Hammerheads (@GoHammerheads) January 17, 2020
Shortly after being drafted, JJ headed to South Florida to play with Miami’s high-A team, the Jupiter Hammerheads. His stint for the Heads only lasted for 38 games during the dog days of July and August, but during that final stretch of the season, Bleday recorded a .257 batting average with 3 home runs, 19 RBIs and an 11-game hit streak.
Most important, however, was becoming familiar with the Jupiter facility, where the Marlins also hold Spring Training. “This is like a second go-around, I guess you could say,” the rookie said about reporting to Jupiter this spring. “I got my feet wet towards the end of the season last year with high-A. It feels much more comfortable and familiar. I’m glad it’s here.”
— Jack Webber (@jackwebs21) August 8, 2019
The Marlins signed the former College World Series champion to a $6.7 million contract, but no contract or previous accolades change the intensity of Spring Training for rookies who are attempting to prove their worth. Bleday recognizes that if he wants to make a good first impression on the Miami coaches, it requires a lot of early mornings and long days. “I get here around 6:30, get in the cage by 7, do some early work, get some breakfast, go to meetings, stretch, go to batting practice, then game time.”
Expectations are high for Bleday, as some people are already predicting that the 22-year-old will become the face of the Miami Marlins franchise. However, this spring JJ is doing his best to block out the noise and continue playing the game the way he always has. “I’m just sticking to my routine and keeping consistency day in and day out. I’m not trying to shy away from that regardless of travel, good stretches, or bad stretches. I’m just trying to square up balls consistently, drive more balls in the gap and be more aggressive on the bases.” So far this spring, JJ is 3-for-9 with an RBI.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) February 24, 2020
Bleday won’t be on the Marlins’ Major League roster to start the 2020 season, but if he keeps up the production he’s had at the plate his entire baseball career, you can bet on seeing him at Marlins Park sooner rather than later.