It should have been one of the happiest nights of his career so far.
Instead, Braden Bishop’s smile was strained as he accepted the Texas League Player of the Month Award, his right arm encased in a cast.
On Thursday, Bishop was hit in the forearm by a pitch from Cardinals prospect Sam Tewes in the third inning. He would stay in to run the bases, but was lifted right after the inning ended. What’s most frustrating about this was just Bishop’s second game back after having been hit by a pitch the week previously (that time by a different Cardinals pitcher. Stop telling your pitchers to throw inside if they can’t hit their spots, Cardinals pitching coaches). It’s Bishop’s sixth time being hit by a pitch this year, and unfortunately, this one has done some serious damage, breaking Bishop’s ulna (the bone in your forearm closer to your body). Clearly the book on Bishop is to try to bust him inside; however, minor leaguers, many of whom focus on velocity more than control, don’t always have the accuracy to locate their pitches well. Furthermore, Bishop’s batting stance—he keeps his hands relatively low, Cal Ripken-esque, which helps the slender Bishop (6’1/190) generate bat speed and drive the ball—leaves him vulnerable to pitchers who can’t control their offerings. Instead of helping lead his team into the second-half playoffs, Bishop will miss the remainder of the year. Kyle Lewis will be promoted from High-A Modesto to take his place in the Travs outfield. It’s a bit of a rush job for Lewis, who has only posted a 96 wRC+ at Modesto so far this year as he works through his first full healthy season, and hopefully won’t throw a wrench into his development as he looks to contribute to the playoff-bound Travs.
However, it’s particularly brutal timing for Bishop, who, in his second year with the revamped batting stance, has continued to post strong numbers. Considered a “slash-n-dash”-type player through college, after struggling after a promotion to High-A Bakersfield in 2016, Bishop worked with a hitting coach who sold him on a new approach: less ground-and-pound, more elevate-and-celebrate. Bishop returned to High-A in 2017 and proceeded to rake, raising his ISO by over 30 points. He’ll never be mistaken for a power hitter, but this change in approach boosted Bishop from 11 doubles hit in 2016 to 25 in 2017, plus another 9 hit after his callup to Double-A later that year. In Arkansas, Bishop saw his numbers improve even from where they were in the hitter-friendly Cal League, despite the jump in level and the fact that Dickey-Stephens is known as a pitcher’s park. After a slow start in AA this year, Bishop went bonkers in June; the eight homers he’s hit so far this year are more than he’s hit in all his previous seasons combined, and he had the first two-HR game of his professional career on June 2nd. Bishop seemed poised for a call-up to Triple-A Tacoma, at least, and maybe even a September call-up to Safeco.
Sadly, thanks to one bad pitch, those dreams will have to wait. It’s a horrible disappointment for one of the brighter young stars in Seattle’s system, both for Braden personally and for those of us excited to watch him. At least those who were concerned Bishop might get traded at the deadline can now rest a little easier, although my sense is the organization values Bishop highly, both for his on-field contributions and who he is as a person, and would have been loath to part with him anyway. Bishop fits the Mitch Haniger mold of a toolsy player who works hard to maximize his skillset—as Bishop did when he nearly doubled his line drive % between 2016 and 2017, allowing his plus speed to help him snag extra bases—but he also resembles his Bay Area counterpart in his approach to studying baseball. A frequent reader of FanGraphs and active in “hitting twitter,” Bishop goes out of his way to foster conversations about the art of hitting and is always eager to pick the brains of players he admires. He has a relentless appetite to learn all he can and the dedication to his craft to put that into practice, something that’s been praised by both Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto, who called Bishop’s work ethic one of the best he’s ever seen.
Beyond his work on the field, Bishop understands what it means to be a genuine teammate, something he says he developed a deeper understanding of from seeing his mother progress through her battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s. When he was invited to Spring Training this past year, Bishop galvanized people across baseball to donate to the cause by pledging money to Alzheimer’s research per hit he recorded. The movement grew and Scott Servais eventually chipped in, getting the team matching shirts and strongly suggesting all players donate to Bishop’s cause (Canó reportedly gave him a cool 5k).
Proud.#4MOM #EndALZ pic.twitter.com/eLtAodfgHj— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) March 25, 2018
It was the first of many bonding opportunities we’ve seen from the team that banded together to #SendSegura, and it speaks both to the character of the team, stepping up to help a younger player, and to Braden himself, how his openness about the adversity he’s facing fosters an environment where emotional honesty isn’t seen as a weakness but an opportunity to have your teammates lift you up, and to in turn lift them up.
At just 24, Braden Bishop has had to smile through more than his fair share of pain. Through that struggle, however, he’s built a support network that he can now lean on as he starts down the road to recovery, with plenty of Mariners fans cheering him on along the way.
If you are interested in making a donation to Braden’s cause #4MOM, you can do that here or here. Or show your support of Braden with a 4MOM t-shirt or a bracelet from partner company Rivet Revolution. You can also follow the foundation on Twitter, and follow Braden himself and send him some messages of support.