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2019 MLB Draft (This Guy Could Join the White Sox Tonight): J.J. Bleday

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Could the Vanderbilt outfielder be the guy the Sox select tonight?

For Pete’s sake: Bleday broke Pedro Alvarez’s Vanderbilt single season home run record earlier this year.
@BledayJay

When you have the No. 3 overall pick, it’s never too soon to take a quick peek into this year’s MLB draft. This year’s draft class is loaded with excellent hitting prospects, but is relatively weak on the pitching side.

Draft Prospects You Should Know is a new series that features prospects who the White Sox could pursue in this year’s draft. As the June draft nears, we’ll return to many of these athletes and provide updates on whether their stocks are rising (or falling).

Age listed as of Day One of the Draft (June 3).


J.J. Bleday
Vanderbilt
Outfielder
Age 21
Bats Left
Throws Left

Rankings

Baseball America 6
MLB 5
FanGraphs 5

Prior to this season, Bleday (6´3´´, 205 pounds) was a highly-talented outfielder who had posted decent but unspectacular results for the Commodores of Vanderbilt. Actually, his numbers weren’t bad last year, as he led the team in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Unfortunately, he missed 22 games in 2018 due to an oblique injury and his power never got on track. However, he finished last season with a 10-game hitting streak and 28-game on-base streak. That finish, along with solid numbers posted in last fall’s Cape Cod League, catapulted Bleday to 24th in this year’s preseason MLB Pipeline rankings. He’s carried that momentum into 2019, where he’s posted a spectacular year thus far. Here are Bleday’s stats through May 31, 2019:

2017 51 G, 164 AB, .256/.384/.341, 8 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 22 RBIs, 0-of-2 SB, 34 BB, 26 Ks
2018 39 G, 133 AB, .368/.494/.511, 5 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 15 RBIs, 2-of-3 SB, 31 BB, 23 Ks
2019 55 G, 214 AB, .346/.461/.748, 9 2B, 1 3B, 25 HR, 64 RBIs, 1-of-2 SB, 45 BB, 45 Ks

Bleday is among the NCAA leaders in home runs this year, as he’s hit them at an incredible 9.26% clip. He’s done so while maintaining an impressive walk-to-strikeout ratio. For his career, he’s walked 17.35% of the time while fanning just 14.83%. Bleday’s numbers are eerily close to Arizona State slugger Hunter Bishop, and both are in contention for first outfielder to be chosen in this year’s draft.

Here are Bishop’s numbers thus far in 2019: 51 G, 202 AB, .356/.482/.792, 14 2B, 4 3B, 22 HR, 61 RBIs, 11-of-18 SB, 42 BB, 56 Ks.

For both players, this is the first year they have clocked double-digit homers. Bleday is typically rated a better hitter than Bishop, based on hitting for a much higher average than Bishop last year in addition to whiffing fewer times. While Bishop’s considered the better athlete, Bleday has an arm suited for right field. Here are the average grades for Bleday and Bishop as provided by MLB Pipeline and Baseball America:

Bleday: Hit 57.5, Power 60, Run 40, Field 50, Arm 57.5
Bishop: Hit 50, Power 65, Run 60, Field 52.5, Arm 50

Scouts believe Bleday can be an above-average to plus hitter despite a swing that is a bit unorthodox — but it works for him when combined with his balance and sound approach. Bleday has traded some contact for power this year, but his contact numbers are still respectable. He has intriguing power to all fields, as he’s demonstrated he can drive the ball out the other way this year after pitchers stopped challenging him inside. Bleday’s arm is above-average and even plays up due to its accuracy. The biggest weakness in Bleday’s game is his lack of speed; however, because he has solid instincts, he always seems to make the right plays defensively.

Would the White Sox consider Bleday with the third overall pick? Certainly, if the Sox wish to continue their trend of taking polished college bats. Of course, the most polished available bat could be Cal first sacker Andrew Vaughn. However, if the Sox desire such a bat who plays a more optimal position than first base, the decision could come down to Bleday vs. Bishop. Bleday is ranked a bit higher than Bishop (despite his relative lack of athleticism) due to his his ability to make more frequent contact, a better throwing arm, and longer track record. If the Sox do select Bleday, he could be the biggest J.J. to hit Chicago since “Good Times” aired on television over 40 years ago.

Here’s a video of Bleday performing in the Cape Cod League last year, courtesy of 2080 Baseball:

And here’s a video of Bleday obliterating a baseball in this year’s SEC Tournament, courtesy of the SEC Network: