Timing is everything in sports.
When Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday went 5-for-5 during an SEC Tournament game against Auburn on May 22 with Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter in the stands, it could be argued that the baseball future of the former Titusville standout was set into motion.
Twelve days after that impressionable performance, Bleday was selected by the Marlins with the fourth overall pick in Monday’s first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Picked after Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and University of California first baseman Andrew Vaughn, Bleday is slated to join a Marlins organization that is currently striving for its first winning season in 10 years and first World Series since the 2003 campaign.
Bleday, 21, was originally drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 39th round of the 2016 MLB Draft, but chose to attend Vanderbilt University instead of signing right out of high school. His decision proved to be the right one on Monday, as the junior monumentally improved his draft position over the last few years.
After earning top honors in the Cape Cod League in the fall of 2018 by receiving the Robert A. McNeece Most Outstanding Pro Prospect Award, Bleday took the college baseball scene by storm for the Commodores this season.
Playing right field for the SEC champion Commodores, Bleday’s 26 home runs broke the Vanderbilt single season record, and currently leads all of Division I. His .739 slugging percentage and 178 total bases were number one marks in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) as Bleday helped Vanderbilt with its first regular season conference championships since 2013. He’s reached base in 42 consecutive games and is hitting .351.
In the postseason thus far, Bleday led the Commodores to the SEC Tournament Championship, going 8-for-16 at the plate with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs en route to earning MVP honors for the tournament. He then contributed three hits, including two doubles, in the Nashville Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
Bleday has already received national recognition for his breakout season, being named the SEC Player of the Year. He is also a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy, which is annually awarded to the national college baseball player of the year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and a finalist for the coveted Golden Spikes Award, which is given to the best amateur baseball player in the United States by USA Baseball.
The former Rocket is now the second member of his family that has been taken in the MLB Draft. His older brother, Adam, was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 27th round of the 2017 installment of the draft, and is currently a development coach with the Baltimore Orioles organization.
Before beginning his professional career in the Marlins organization, JJ Bleday and the Vanderbilt Commodores will continue their quest for the NCAA Division I Championship. After winning the Nashville Regional on Sunday, Vanderbilt (52-10) has advanced to the Super Regionals, which begin on Friday.