JJ Bleday Talks Hitting

JJ Bleday was drafted fourth-overall in 2019 after breaking out at Vanderbilt. Swinging from the left side, the now-23-year-old outfielder bashed an NCAA-best 26 home runs, putting up a 1.005 OPS along the way. And the Miami Marlins brought more than just a slugger on board. As Eric Longenhagen wrote in his prospect profile, Bleday is “a complete offensive package” who possesses “a superlative feel for the strike zone.”

Bleday didn’t get game action last year due to the pandemic, but his advanced tools and mature approach are impressive enough that the Marlins are giving him a long look this spring. Ranked 35th on our 2021 Top 100 Prospects list, Bleday is close to big-league ready despite having just 151 professional plate appearances, none above A-ball.

Bleday talked hitting prior to getting into the cage yesterday afternoon.

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David Laurila: Let’s start with one of my favorite icebreaker questions: Do you view hitting as more of an art, or as more of a science?

JJ Bleday: “I view it as more of an art. It’s definitely an art, because it’s your own craft. Everyone has their own style, and kind of mark on their swing, or variation of approaching the game.”

Laurila: A lot of the guys I’ve asked that question to have said “art,” but then talked about the science of hitting. Analytics are obviously a big part of the game now.

Bleday: “Oh, yeah, absolutely. With every sport. I mean, it’s big-time in golf nowadays.”

Laurila: Are hitting analytics a big part of who you are?

Bleday: “Hitting analytics aren’t really who I am, or what I really go after, although depending on the game, and when you’re going in, you’re going to want to use some of those things to modify your approach. But I wouldn’t say that’s my go-to thing.”

Laurila: Daniel Murphy told me — this is analytics related — that his goal is to hit line drives, and if he misses, he wants to miss in the air. Do you feel the same way?

Bleday: “Absolutely. Just look for hard contact in the air. That’s the main goal every at-bat, each pitch.”

Laurila: Why is that?

Bleday: “I mean, you have more success. To me, a successful at-bat, or a successful swing, is just hard contact. Now, obviously, if you hit it on the ground, it’s more likely to be an out. So, if you’re missing in the air, and you’re keeping your… most of the time, you’re keeping your same swing pattern. That’s why missing in the air is better than missing on the ground.”

Laurila: What do you mean by “swing pattern”?

Bleday: “It’s trying to get off your A-swing as many times as you can, every pitch. Obviously, you’re not going to be able to do that every single at-bat. But it’s creating — trying to create enough space — and timing to get off that swing as many times as you can, every at-bat.”

Laurila: What is your timing mechanism?

Bleday: “I’d say it’s always predicated on the pitcher. I’m trying to throw my punch. If he’s showing his punch, I’m trying to throw my punch. My timing mechanism is usually within my mechanics. I have a little twirl. I kind of go off that, and am just finding the rhythm. It’s like a dance, you know. You’re dancing with the pitcher in order to the throw that punch.”

Laurila: What do you mean by “a little twirl”?

Bleday: “My hands. My bat-swirl. You see guys… honestly, a lot of lefties do it more than righties. You see guys like [Kyle] Schwarber, Murphy, even [Anthony] Rizzo. It’s like a hand-timing mechanism that’s just naturally there. Ever since I’ve picked up a bat, it’s always been there.”

Laurila: Does velocity impact that? For instance, one guy might be 90-91 [mph] and another is 98-99.

Bleday: “It would vary on how slow, or how quick, the guy is attacking you, or whether he’s going from the stretch or from the wind up. But I say it’s pretty much the same for everybody. In terms of getting on time, it’s the same on hand-break, or when they start moving — just to keep it simple. And then you’re adjusting within the at-bat. So if you feel like you’re late on that pitch, or you didn’t see it good enough, then you’re obviously going to be late, or you’re lunging, you’re going to be early. So it’s kind of modifying it, but for the most part, you’re going off the same on everyone.”

Laurila: A lot hitters look away and adjust in. Is that your normal approach?

Bleday: “I’d say the main thing is just kind of picking your zone, and sticking to that zone throughout the whole at-bat. Especially with guys who like to cut the ball. You’re going to probably look more away. Or guys who do more sinker/slider, you’re probably going to look more in. So for me, it’s more zone, and looking in that zone.”

Laurila: Is it the same swing on pitches away and pitches in?

Bleday: “It’s the same swing. Your A-swing is the same away as it is inside. The only thing that’s different is the timing. You’re just going to be more out front on an inside pitch than an outside pitch.”

Laurila: Eric Longehagen wrote in your prospect profile that you are “short to the ball but still create lift.” Do you think that’s a good description of your swing?

Bleday: “I’m sometimes pretty bad at explaining my own swing, but I’d say that’s pretty good. I’m pretty fluid and short to the ball, and then get good extension through the zone.”

Laurila: Is that something that’s come naturally, or has it taken a lot of time to develop?

Bleday: “I’d say it’s a mixture of both. Mainly it’s the talent you’re born with in terms of picking up a bat, but then you’re obviously modifying that with the amount of reps over the years.”

Laurila: Changing direction, do you see a lot of value in facing left-handed pitchers on a regular basis?

Bleday: “I’d say that’s probably the best thing as a left-handed hitter, to challenge yourself as a hitter in general. I mean, you’re only going to get better if you’re facing left-on-left. It’s going to make that righty — that lane and that angle — look a lot easier. You’re not necessarily going to have more success hitting off a righty, but it is going to allow you to see the ball, probably better, after facing a lot of lefties.”

Laurila: Facing lefties probably helps you keep your shoulder in as well.

Bleday: “Absolutely.”

Laurila: Have you ever studied film of Don Mattingly at the plate?

Bleday: “You know what? I’ve seen his swing a little bit, and I was actually just thinking about it on the way over to the field today. I was like, ‘I need to check out Donnie’s swing,’ because I talked to him the other day… maybe a week ago. He was sitting there on the side, watching us hit, and I was talking to him about approach, like ‘Hey, what were you looking for when you were going good?’ It was probably the most detailed hitting conversation I’ve ever had in my life. He was talking about the zones, and he was talking about what, specifically, he was looking for, and visualizing, before he even got to the box. When he got in there, and crossed that path of where he was looking, he was hitting it.”

Laurila: I know guys tend to shy away from comps, but are there any you’ve heard that you like?

Bleday: “I know a lot of my teammates, at Vandy, and even here with Miami… I’ve heard Michael Conforto. I’ve heard Christian Yelich. Whether it’s swing or body makeup, I’m not sure. But I don’t try to emulate my game after anyone. I just kind of keep it my own natural way, but I have heard those a lot.

“The guys I watched the most growing up were probably Ken Griffey [Jr.] and Barry [Bonds], just because their swings were so cool. I never really tried doing what they were doing, but they were fun guys watch hit.”

Laurila: One last thing: What does the term “barrel awareness” mean to you?

Bleday: “Barrel awareness, to me, is just contact. You know where that barrel is at throughout your swing, the whole time, in order to put a swing on the baseball. Even if it’s the foul ball with two strikes, and you’re battling, that barrel awareness, and that hand eye coordination… you’re just knowing yourself, and staying within yourself, and that swing, throughout that whole time.”

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Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Cavan Biggio, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Joey Gallo, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Tim Hyers, Trevor Larnach, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Daniel Murphy, Drew Saylor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Zac Veen, Luke Voit, Jesse Winker.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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diamonddores

Really nice insight from JJ here. Seems like a really sharp young man.