In 2021, the return of spring training brings with it the return to in game action for hundreds of minor league baseball players who missed out on a full season’s worth of experience in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Among those future stars invited to big league camp is 2019 first round pick and second highest rated organizational prospect, JJ Bleday.
Despite the missed MiLB campaign, Bleday, much like he did last spring when he recorded his first hit against pro pitching in his very first game, got off to a more explosive start last Sunday in West Palm Beach. Serving as the designated hitter, Bleday stepped to the plate against Brandon Bielak, the Astros’ 22nd ranked prospect according to BaseballAmerica. After watching the Houston defense shifted him to pull to the right side, Bleday did this:
“Waaaaay back and outta here!”
JJ Bleday solo HR 🤩 pic.twitter.com/qUwEQ0lQkf
— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) February 28, 2021
While he didn’t get into any sanctioned MiLB games in 2020, Bleday was active at the Marlins’ alternate training site as well as in the team’s winter instructional league. JJ credits his experiences there, facing off against older pitchers for keeping him fresh and keeping him prepared.
“It was great seeing guys like Sixto (Sanchez), Sandy (Alcantara), Caleb Smith, (Jose) Urena… we had a bunch of guys who we were able to get quality at bats off and really grow as individuals, Bleday said. “Just like a normal season, you’d have your good weeks and your bad weeks.”
According to Don Mattingly, Bleday’s ability to be prepared for whatever approaches him in his baseball career was brought out during his collegiate career at Vanderbilt and it’s only gotten better since he turned pro.
“This is a guy that comes from a great program at Vanderbilt and those guys have been pretty solid. They’re all pretty solid fundamental guys that look like they know what they’re doing,” Mattingly said. “It’s just a matter of development. I’m feeling like he’s done different things at different levels and he’s ready to go.”
Whether it be when he was challenged at A+ to begin his pro career, last spring, at the ATS or now, in his second spring campaign, Bleday has managed to answer every call because of an extremely mature offensive mindset. Whether he grounds out or hits a home run, Bleday’s primary mission in any AB is to put the ball in play.
“I hate striking out, I hate giving up at bats. At least creating a chance for the defense to make a mistake. I think that started at a young age,” Bleday said. “Emphasizing accuracy over power. I think when you sacrifice accuracy for power, for me personally I get in a tough position where you’re wasting stuff and things don’t go your way. But if you’re aggressive and keep that accuracy first over power, you’re eventually just going to keep getting better as a hitter.”
Due to well rounded hit, power and fielding tools that hold a future value at 55 or better across the board, Bleday is primed to continue to make noise in this Marlins system, noise that should grow louder this coming season.
But Bleday is far from the only recently drafted outfield prospect invited to Marlins camp this year that has a big future. One fellow outfield prospect who is joining Bleday in big league camp this spring is Peyton Burdick. Fish On The Farm’s ninth ranked prospect and arguably the quickest rising prospect in the Marlins’ organization, Burdick earned the invite to camp after a fantastic first full season in A ball in 2019 and an impressive showing at the winter instructional league. Per reports, Burdick’s name was thrown around in trade talks this winter but the Marlins showed how high they are on Burdick’s potential by passing on the opportunity to acquire Wilson Contreras.
Burdick makes up for his stout height (6’) with an absolutely massive physique. Originally trained by Josh Elleman, the co-founder of Elite Strength and Conditioning who previously worked for the Boston Red Sox organization and who has done work training athletes at every level of development, Burdick spent the pandemic months in the professional baseball player development program at ProForce Sports Performance in Cincinnati. The newly turned 24-year-old could not be more impressive physically. He puts every bit of his body into a gorgeous power swing. He adds to that great bat-to-ball skills and above average speed, giving him 20/20 potential. He also owns a good outfield arm capable of handling right field.
Burdick went through Tommy John surgery in 2016. It was not long after, on the road back during his redshirt junior season, where he saw his biggest physical growth.
“I worked out either once a day or twice a day. I was working out 12-14 times a week. That’s when I realized I was starting to actually get after it,” Burdick said. “You see the changes in your body and you become obsessed with it. You take pride in what you look like and how you function and move. I realized that lifting weights puts more damage on the ball for you so you don’t have to swing as hard. You can just connect with a more consistent swing.”
Regarding being in camp with each other and other Marlins outfield prospects, Bleday says that around guys in the same position as they are has created camaraderie that has benefitted each of their personal growth and planted strong roots in their relationship as teammates.
“It’s a healthy competition,” Bleday said. “Obviously we all want to do well individually but at the same time you’ve got to get ready for the season and you’ve got to go out and perform for the organization. We all enjoy being around one another and we all enjoy learning from each other. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Burdick echoes Bleday’s sentiments.
“You can’t be be the best person you are if the guy next to you isn’t pushing you,”. Burdick said. “My favorite verse from the Bible is Proverbs 27:17: “The iron sharpens the iron,” meaning that each man makes every other man better. It’s good to have that friendly competition going on and it really makes every other man better.”
While it remains to be seen where each of these outfield prospects wind up to begin 2021, they have all bought in to the message surrounding this Marlins organization from top to bottom: build on your successes, learn from your failures and strive to improve every time out. They are pushing each other to be better and building their relationships as teammates. It is virtually everything you want to see in the latter stages of a rebuild. Look on this system with eyes wide open now or have them forced open by it in the very near future.