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LL’s Top 50 Mariners Prospects 2019: #9 - Braden Bishop

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Defense and speed are his calling cards, but Braden Bishop overhauled his swing and wants to show that he can hit well enough to be an every day major league player

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-All Star Game
Braden Bishop is hungry and ready for major league action.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Top 10 of LL’s Top 50 Prospects of 2019! To date, we’ve covered prospects 50-10 in the system (you can catch up here). Today, we take a look at outfielder Braden Bishop, a player we can expect to see in Seattle at some point this season.

The story of Braden Bishop is the story of a player valued for his defense and speed, yet discounted because of his bat. Bishop has rejected this plot line as a trite retelling of a tale he has heard many times, one in which he has no interest in participating. Instead, he has wrestled the pen from baseball and is writing his own version of the story of a player working his way toward the major leagues.

Bishop has been valued by the Mariners since he was drafted in the third round of the 2015 MLB draft, a rare Jack Zduriencik pick that could brighten the future. Now, gearing up for his first season in AAA at age 25, he fits in with the current Mariner regime’s appetite for players who know how to make adjustments.

Despite the narrative about his lack of offensive prowess, Bishop and others have rejected it. Bishop told pac-12.com before he was drafted out of the University of Washington (Go Dawgs), “I strongly believe that I’m a good hitter. I’m not going to stop working at it. I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m going to learn.” Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara was impressed with Bishop’s ability to square up on pitches, and his college coaches similarly thought he had offensive ability, citing the rise of his slugging percentage throughout his college career.

The story of Bishop’s professional career has been one of purposeful improvement. After struggling in his promotion to High-A the year after he was drafted, he sought out fellow Washington Husky Jake Lamb of the Diamondbacks for help. Lamb, who was drafted before Bishop arrived at Washington, had offered him help in his college career. Now, struggling in a hitting-friendly league, Bishop sought to make changes. He watched Lamb have success dropping his hands to generate more power and decided to take the same approach for a different purpose. He had been punching the ball and hoping his speed would get him on base. Dropping his hands allowed his swing to start low and end high, helping him drive the ball. His speed still comes into play; he can stretch gap hits into doubles and triples, or steal a base and turn a single into a double.

Here, Bishop talks about the changes he made to his swing:

Bishop had a rough start again last season in Double-A. A devoted reader of FanGraphs and a player who understands what advanced statistics have to say, he was reassured in checking in on his numbers. He saw that he was hitting the ball right at fielders and was able to make a couple physical adjustments. In June, his bat found its swing. He exploded offensively and won the Texas League Player of the Month award for June. Unfortunately, his season was cut short in July.

He had largely avoided the injury bug until an inside pitch connected with his forearm and he was awarded first base and a broken ulna. It was the sixth time he’d been hit by a pitch that year. (He is second all-time in University of Washington history with 43 hit by pitches in his college career.)

Bishop’s defense and speed are still the most attractive elements in his profile, with 70 grade speed, and a future grade of 70 fielding and 55 throwing. Even with the improvements he has made to his batting, it will be his defense and speed that remain his strong points.

He has long been a regarded as a fourth outfielder with good enough defense to play at the major league level, but with a bat that doesn’t merit an everyday position. He has shown over the last two seasons, however, that he has the ability to make changes and improve his offense. Not only has he demonstrated the desire and drive to learn how to hit, he has also shown the capacity and physical ability to take what he learns and translate it into action.

Bishop’s ISO has risen steadily over his career, from 0.73 in 2015 to .128 last season. He has kept his strikeout percentage under 20% in all of his stops, with the exception of the year he struggled in High-A. He put up a double digit walk percentage in 2017, and 9.4% last season. His BABIP has always been above .300 and his line drive percentage has gone up from 15.3% in 2015 to 22.8% last year. He is clearly a hitter who can make adjustments. He’s not likely to suddenly develop light-tower power (his future grade for game power on FanGraphs is 30); however, he has shown that he can get better. The 8 home runs he last season equalled his previous career total.

Having healed from his broken arm, Bishop will start the season in AAA Tacoma as the outfielder most likely to be called up to Seattle in the event of an injury or trade. When he does play for the Mariners, he will become the 24th University of Washington baseball player to play in the major leagues and will join Sean Spencer, Mike Blowers, and Sean White as the only Huskies to have played for the Mariners.

When he does join the Mariners, he will bring more up with him than just speed, defense, and intelligence. He also brings a clubhouse cohesiveness with him wherever he goes. His openness in talking about his mom’s struggles with Alzheimer’s Disease and the organization he started in college to raise money, 4 MOM, has given Bishop the ability to connect to teammates and opponents alike.

The story of Braden Bishop will always be more than that of a baseball player. He’s a strong Alzheimer’s advocate and a caring teammate, qualities that will matter in life beyond baseball. His baseball story is still being written, and when he doesn’t like the direction the plot is heading, he has taken charge and rewritten the narrative. I know I can’t wait to read this season’s chapter.