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2019 Phillies Draft Preview - JJ Bleday, OF

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NCAA BASEBALL: Mississippi State at Vanderbilt George Walker IV-USA TODAY Sports

Bleday is a 6’3”, 205 lbs Left handed hitting and throwing Outfielder at Vanderbilt University. I think I have yet to have a draft year where I didn’t preview at least one prospect from Vandy. They recruit well and typically at least a few of their recruits get to campus (though it has to be frustrating to lose so much of your hard work to the first couple rounds of the draft before they ever get to campus). Bleday’s an intriguing prospect with some tweener worries to overcome this year to move up draft boards. He doesn’t have the speed for Center and he’s only shown flashes of the power teams want in Right.

First the non-hitting info. Bleday is an average to below average runner, he won’t clog up the basepaths, but he’s not a guy that’s going to stretch a lot of singles into doubles or go first to third frequently. Plenty of speed for an Outfield corner though. He was a Pitching prospect as well as Outfield prospect in High School. While his Pitching wasn’t good enough to stay on the mound at Vandy, he does have a plus arm and plenty of ability to handle Right Field.

Now on to the hitting. A big positive in Bleday’s favor is his eye. We’re only a couple weeks into the 2019 season for the NCAA, so I’ll mostly limit this to his first 2 years. Each of those years he had 8 more walks than strikeouts (in 11 games this year he’s roughly 1:1). Also, roughly twice as many hits as K’s. Those traits tend to bode well for the transition to pro ball and, honestly, it’s always better to have a player with a good eye.

The big question has been power. Bleday has plenty of bat speed and strength to project 60 grade raw power, but through 2 years at Vandy he had a pedestrian 6 Home Runs. The weird part is that in 2 years of wood bat summer leagues he has 7 home runs. It’s rare that a College player has more power in the wood bat leagues (though, again, it bodes well). In the early going of 2019 Bleday already has matched his 2018 HR total. In 2018 Bleday struggled and lost time to an oblique strain, which likely sapped some of his power.

First, in terms of videos is a video from last summer (from 2080 Baseball). There are things I like and don’t like in JJ’s swing. The good, his leg kick is moderate and does load his power. He starts from a slightly open stance, but often lands closed with his foot open, unlocking his hip to rotate. The bad: he doesn’t always open that foot which can sap some power. Most of his 2017 and 2018 swings are fairly flat and suggest line drive doubles power. However, my biggest issue in his swing is that his head rises and drops quite a bit. The rise, bothers me less at it is very slight and happens while the pitcher is winding up. The drop though is sometimes quite large (maybe 3-4 inches) and happens roughly at release. I’ll give some leeway since he’s maintained good plate discipline he still sees the ball pretty well and there are pros who succeed doing some weird stuff, but that much movement makes me worry he’ll lose track of pitches as the command improves up the ladder. He’s also got really busy hands. the last 15 seconds show his swing in slow motion and he bounces the bat before his swing, which can also lead to timing problems.

For the second video, I have what is a weird rarity. Several recent videos to choose from. I’m going to share one I like slightly better, form about 2 weeks ago (courtesy Prospects Live). Both videos were from the same series, so if you want to see the other it’s on youtube from Perfect Game Baseball (I didn’t like it because it was mostly obstructed BP video). First, the good news, This video includes a pull Homer. Also, some improved swing mechanics. Head stays more level from release through contact and there looks like a bit more loft in the swing. The hands are still a little over active, but everything else seems to be trending in the right direction.

All Bleday needs to do now is keep his plate discipline, keep the power improving as he’s shown early and stay healthy. There’s a good chance he’s there when the Phillies pick in the middle of the round, since his profile doesn’t tend to go very high, barring a crazy huge surge in power. The ceiling is probably a First Division Regular who hit 20-25 HR a year. This isn’t a profile the Phillies have typically gone after (Kelly Dugan, as a High Schooler, 10 years ago is the last high pick that comes to mind), though Neither was Alec Bohm, so it’s possible to think outside the Phillies traditional up the middle box.