Here we go! After a few weeks in which nearly ever major draft outlet projected that the Detroit Tigers were near locks to take prep outfielder Riley Greene in June’s MLB draft, Baseball America’s latest mock is going in a different direction. This time around, Greene goes fourth to the Miami Marlins, while the Tigers take Vanderbilt outfielder J.J. Bleday.
Let’s get right to the fun part. Bleday, a 21-year-old who was previously drafted in the 39th round by the San Diego Padres in 2016, is a well-rounded corner outfielder who has hit for average throughout his career at Vanderbilt. According to MLB Pipeline, Bleday “has a quick left-handed swing, controls the strike zone well and hammers line drives to all fields.” Baseball America adds that Bleday “does a good job of consistently barreling the ball.”
Standing 6’3 and weighing 205 pounds, Bleday has plenty of raw power. However, he previously did not tap into it very well in games; he hit .368 and got on base at a .494 clip in 39 games last year, but only produced 10 extra base hits. That power has started to blossom in the past year, with Bleday hitting five home runs in the wood bat Cape Cod League — a relatively pitcher-friendly environment — and 21 dingers (so far) in his junior season with the Commodores. Those 21 homers are tied for the NCAA lead heading into play on Friday, and have earned Bleday a spot on the Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list.
Defensively, Bleday looks the part of your prototypical right fielder. He is a below-average runner, but “has a plus arm that fits well in right field” per MLB Pipeline. He also covers ground well in the outfield, in part thanks to great instincts that help mask any deficits in his overall speed. FanGraphs praises Bleday’s “high-end peripherals [and] athleticism” in their brief report, however, so any questions about his speed and quickness may be overblown.
While Greene still seems like Detroit’s preferred option at No. 5 overall, many fans may prefer a more experienced option in Bleday. He sits one spot ahead of Greene on MLB Pipeline’s draft prospect rankings, but five spots behind on Baseball America’s list. Bleday might not be quite the pure hitter that Greene is — the prep outfielder received a plus grade for his hit tool, while Bleday is only considered above-average — but he looks to be a better defender, with superior instincts and a stronger arm.
How will things play out at the MLB draft? We don’t know yet. But stay tuned — we’ll keep you updated on the latest rumors and scouting reports throughout the spring.