Before there was Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, or J.P. Crawford, there was Braden Bishop. The 94th overall pick of the 2015 draft is a rare Jack Z remnant, whose prospect shine was divisive from the start but has finally managed to break through the curtains. The 25-year-old will begin 2019 in AAA-Tacoma, tauntingly close to the majors. He’ll be part of an outfield consisting of Ian Miller, Eric Filia, and perhaps Orlando Calixte or Dustin Ackley - an intriguing but less hyped group than those in AA or A-ball at a minimum. After almost two years as one of the lone bright spots in the Mariners’ prospect blackout, Bishop has company, and it might be coming for his spot. Still, he’s earned recognition all his own.
The scouting report on Bishop is, for the most part, simple. 65-70-grade defender, with a strong arm, great instincts, and plus speed. The defense jumps out, and has been remarked upon at every level.
Good bat-to-ball skills and a fairly advanced approach have allowed him to run double-digit walk rates through the minors and a healthy 16.2% K-rate through his entire minors career. An entire further report could be written on Bishop’s dedication to supporting his family, and the wonderful work his 4MOM Foundation does to combat Alzheimer’s Disease. Several have, in fact.
But where every report prior to the 2017 season was left wanting was the bat. A player must provide some semblance of balance in their profile to stick in the majors (see: Vogelbach, Daniel), but no tool will more easily push you to the majors than a powerful, consistent offensive profile. Bishop hit a wall in 2016, struggling in the offense-friendly High-A Cal League with an impotent .247/.300/.319 line in 184 PAs after being promoted to Modesto.
Bishop had become, it seemed, the low end of his potential - a brilliant 4th OF type whose offense wasn’t up to snuff for everyday play. His speed and glove would propel him to the bigs but his bat would keep him bouncing back and forth between the majors and minors. It was disappointing, but it happens, and it happened to Braden Bishop, and it had happened to players before him, and will happen to those who come after. He was what he was.
And then he wasn’t.
The glove-first OF put his strength and his bat at the forefront of his training. He talked to his college teammate Jake Lamb. He talked to his fellow NorCal buddy Mitch Haniger. He made a change, as prospect writer Jen Mac Ramos noted. And he got better. Much better. It’s visible in the ISO most of all, but across the board Bishop became a more potent hitter despite facing stiffer competition. After 2016, the appraisal from Baseball Prospectus was negative:
“He has enough strength to knock a few mistakes out of the yard, but he’s rapped fewer and fewer line drives at each passing level.”
A year and a half later, the narrative has shifted:
“Bishop has always hit for a high average and over the past two seasons has begun to show more power, putting up his best numbers at Double-A. The speed and glove have been there from the jump, and if the modest power numbers he has put up over the past calendar year are here to stay, he’s a legitimate top-100 prospect. At his age, it would be nice to see how he fares in Triple-A sooner rather than later.”
The power is not overwhelming, but in AA-Arkansas and the pitcher-friendly Texas League Bishop recorded as many home runs as he’d had in the rest of his pro career combined.
To look at FanGraphs’ metrics, Bishop’s offensive emergence has been notable. To look at Baseball Prospectus’ offensive metrics, the numbers are even more impressive. Bishop’s 2017 breakout in Modesto earned him a DRC+ of 124, followed by a 169 DRC+ in AA-Arkansas in 145 PAs. That continued in force, with an early-season slump giving way to a potent 139 DRC+ showing in 2018. His season surely would’ve culminated in a promotion to AAA-Tacoma had he not taken an errant pitch off his wrist in July and been forced to miss the rest of the season.
Now, at age-25, entering his first season of AAA, Bishop has time working against him, in addition to an influx of young talent to compete with above and below him. He’s worked for two years now to make the most of his talent, and its gotten him a 40-man roster spot, and recognition as a legitimate potential starting outfielder. He should be the first guy up if/when an outfielder is injured or dealt for Seattle this year, and we’ll see Bishop in Seattle before long.
He’s been a shining light in the deepest caverns, and now the light is beginning to grow brighter as the cave’s opening yawns before us. But he’s still here, and his battle shifts this year from struggling to avoid being snuffed out entirely to battling to claim a spot in the new Mariners plan. Only the best outfielders will remain, and there are many. But Braden was here first.