The Marlins have selected the contract of former first-round pick JJ Bleday and added him to the active roster, by Jordan McPherson of the Miami Herald (through Twitter). Bleday’s addition to the roster comes in response to Jorge Soler going on the 10-day injured list with lower back spasms.
There isn’t any backdating on Soler’s IL placement, so the veteran slugger will (at minimum) be out of action until the August 2 trade deadline. Though Miami has several players who could be trade chips by the deadline, there hadn’t been much buzz about the possibility of Soler being traded, which speaks to both Soler’s contract, the Marlins’ longer-term plans, and his tough 2022 season.
Soler, the reigning World Series MVP, inked a three-year, $36MM free agent deal with the Marlins after the lockout. Soler has the ability to opt out after both this season (leaving $24MM on the table) and after the 2023 season (leaving his $9MM salary for 2024 on the table), though it would seem unlikely that Soler would again test free agency on the heels of an underwhelming year to date.
Soler has hit .207/.295/.400 with 13 home runs over 306 plate appearances, with a 99 wRC+ that reflects slightly below-average production. Despite the lack of big numbers, there is some evidence that Soler could turn it on in the second half. After all, it was just last season that Soler went on a tear after being dealt to the Braves at the deadline, and he more or less carried that hot streak all the way through the World Series.
This year, Soler has outstanding hard-contact numbers and a .322 xwOBA that is above his .305 wOBA, even if that .322 mark is only around the league average. Soler is also walking at an above-average rate but is swinging and missing a ton, as his 29.4% strikeout rate is only in the ninth percentile of all batters. Teams are playing shifts against Soler 78% of the time, which is stifling his solid contact numbers — Soler has only a .275 wOBA against the shift, and a whopping .411 wOBA when not facing shifts.
Injuries have also played a role in the last few weeks, as Soler missed about two weeks at the start of July with bilateral pelvis inflammation, and played in only five games before this latest return to the IL. It remains to be seen how much extra time Soler might miss (if more than 10 days), but his absence will open the door for Bleday’s Major League debut.
The fourth overall pick of the 2019 draft, Bleday has hit .229/.365/.470 with 20 home runs over 367 PA at Triple-A Jacksonville this season, his first exposure to Triple-A pitching. It’s a nice breakout for Bleday, who didn’t hit much in his brief minor league debut in 2019 and then struggled in his first full season of pro ball in 2021. His lack of results last year cost Bleday a slot in some top-100 prospect rankings, but MLB Pipeline still had him 69th on their preseason list.
Of course, Bleday didn’t play at all in 2020 due to the canceled minor league season, so it isn’t necessarily surprising that it took some time to get back on track. The 24-year-old’s performance in 2022 has seemingly quieted a lot of questions about his power potential and on-base ability, though Bleday is still not hitting for average and is still swinging-and-missing (99 strikeouts in those 367 PA) at a high rate.
Bleday’s strong throwing arm has made him more of a right-field candidate than his initial center field position, and in Miami, Avisail Garcia could slide over to left field to accommodate regular playing time for the rookie, or Bleday could simply take over left field himself. With the Marlins perhaps already planning towards 2023, Bleday could very well get a long look as a potential candidate for an everyday spot next year. Assuming Soler doesn’t opt out, he and Garcia are longer-term options in the corner outfield spots, but the DH is also available to juggle playing time down the road.