JJ Bleday stepped up to home plate at Marlins Park on Friday, ready to take part in a round of batting practice.
Even with manager Don Mattingly and CEO Derek Jeter watching from behind the cage, Bleday looked to be in his element.
He would hop into the cage, take his six or so swings and then hold his bat high in his right arm pointed toward the outfield as he finished each round.
“There’s no better sound than hitting a wood bat in a big-league stadium,” Bleday said.
Bleday, the Marlins’ first-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft out of Vanderbilt and a player they view as a pivotal piece to their rebuild, is here.
The Marlins and Bleday finalized his contract Friday, the final day teams could sign players from the 2019 MLB Draft. Bleday received a reported signing bonus of $6,670,000, slightly above his slot value.
He was the first of three final signings for the Marlins, with No. 35 overall pick Missouri outfielder Kameron Misner and 12th-round pick Holland (Michigan) right-handed pitcher Chris Mokma also signing on Friday. With that, the Marlins landed deals with 31 of their 41 draft selections, including 20 of their first 21 picks. Misner and Mokma came right down to the wire of MLB’s 5 p.m. Friday deadline.
“It was our overall draft philosophy to have the deepest draft that we possibly could,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said.
Bleday is the headliner.
The 21-year-old left-handed outfielder hit an NCAA-leading 27 home runs to go along with a .347 batting average, .465 on-base percentage, .701 slugging percentage and 72 RBI during his junior season while helping the Vanderbilt Commodores win the College World Series. He finished his three-year college career with a .326 batting average, 109 RBI, 131 runs scored and more walks (126) than strikeouts (107).
“It shows you where you want to be,” Bleday said of his college career. “You know what goal you want to meet, and that’s just to win baseball games.”
The Marlins, on pace for their 10th consecutive losing season, hope Bleday can be one of those pieces to help them turn things around as they continue their latest rebuild.
Bleday’s agent, Scott Boras, said Bleday reminds him of New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto. A fitting comparison, considering Bleday’s formal introduction as a member of the Marlins organization came before the Marlins (33-55) opened a three-game series with the Mets (40-50).
“He’s a guy I think will adapt very quickly,” Boras said. “He has a mental and physical stature that allows him to move rapidly through an organization.”
Bleday wasted little time trying to get acclimated. During his hour on the field pregame with the team, he spent time talking with veterans Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker, as well as Jeter.
“Just trying to get as much advice as I can get to start my journey,” Bleday said. “I’m glad those guys can talk to me.”
The Marlins are optimistic that Bleday, an advanced hitter who had success against the Southeastern Conference for three years, will move through the minor leagues quickly.
Hill said previously that the goal is for Bleday to be playing with the Marlins’ Class A Advanced affiliate Jupiter Hammerheads by the end of the season. Bleday will start in the Gulf Coast League, where the Marlins will evaluate him after a couple games before deciding where he will spend the bulk of his shortened first professional baseball season.
“This is just the start,” Hill said. “We can now say his career is officially beginning.”
Bleday wasn’t the Marlins’ only big signing of the day. Locking up deals with both Misner and Mokma also could play a big role in the Marlins’ future.
Misner, a lefty-hitting outfielder like Bleday, hit a career-best 10 home runs as a junior at Missouri to go along with 32 RBI and 54 runs scored. A 6-4, 213-pound left-handed hitter, Misner has 21 career home runs and 56 total extra-base hits over three college seasons.
Mokma, a Michigan State commit, was ranked as Baseball America’s No. 477 overall prospect this draft cycle. His fastball sits between 90 and 93 mph. Mokma went 8-0 as a senior at Holland (Michigan) High, compiling a 1.23 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 45 1/3 innings.