With the second overall pick in the draft, the choice seems pretty clear for the Royals. The general consensus is that Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman and Texas prep infielder Bobby Witt, Jr. are the two best players in this draft, and the Royals will select whichever one is available after the Orioles make their pick.
In the latest mock draft at Fangraphs, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel write that the choice still seems to be Witt or Rutschman for the Royals, but they are keeping other options open.
The Royals have quietly done their due diligence on Vanderbilt RF J.J. Bleday, and insiders believe he’s the backup option at this pick if they opt to go college late like they did last year.
I haven't heard much notable movement, mock-wise, so far this morning, but every single person I talk with thinks this draft is going to get weird sooner than later. Though that does seem to be a consistent theme for most drafts.— Carlos Collazo (@CarlosACollazo) June 3, 2019
In case the Royals go through with this unlikely scenario, who is J.J. Bleday?
Bleday grew up in Titusville, Pennsylvania, about two and a half hours east of Cleveland, Ohio before transferring to A. Crawford Mosley High School in Panama City, Florida for his junior and senior seasons. After earning All-State honors, he was selected in the 39th round by the Padres, but opted instead to sign with college baseball powerhouse Vanderbilt.
Bleday was the best hitter for the Commodores in his sophomore season in 2018, batting .368/.494/.511, with four home runs in 133 at-bats, missing time with an oblique injury. He went to the prestigious Cape Cod League that summer and excelled with a wood bat, hitting .311/.374/.500 with five home run in 36 games.
He returned to Vanderbilt for his junior season with much increased power, slamming 26 home runs in 62 games, leading the nation in dingers and hitting .353/.467/.739. He shows a patient eye, drawing 52 walks to 51 strikeouts. His performance this spring has given him helium, and he has risen up draft boards from a potential late-round pick to a likely top-six pick. Baseball America ranks him sixth, while MLB Pipeline and Fangraphs rank him fifth in this draft.
Standing 6’3’’, Bleday has a “quick left-handed swing, controls the strike zone well and hammers line drives to all fields”, according to MLB Pipeline. He models his swing after Christian Yelich, although it has been described as “a bit unorthodox”. Baseball America grades him as having a 60-hit tool with 60-power, while Fangraphs has him at 55 with the hit tool, and 55 for game power, with 60 for raw power.
Baseball America writes Bleday “moves well and could handle center field in a pinch, but he profiles best as a corner outfielder.” Bleday pitched in high school, and has a “plus arm that fits well in right field” according to MLB Pipeline. Bleday is a below-average runner, but has good instincts in the field.
Bleday has been strongly linked to the Marlins with the fourth pick, but the Royals will have a chance to grab him before that if they like his power potential. There are rumors that Bleday could even be in play with the Orioles at #1 in an attempt to go underslot to re-allocate bonus pool money elsewhere in the draft. Bleday does have some very intriguing power, and unlike Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn, could have more positional value as a right-fielder.
As talented as he is however, he seems to be a clear tier below the top shelf holding Rutschman and Witt. The Royals should be keeping all options open, but they will most likely be passing on Bleday on draft night.