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40 in 40: Braden Bishop

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A look back to the one that got away to better understand the one we will have in the future

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Pittsburgh Pirates
Who says white men cant jump?
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Every team needs a fourth outfielder but not every team can have a Guillermo Heredia.

Forced to come to terms with this in 2019, my innocent eyes simply have not been the same since.

The plus plus defending, Colgate ad smiling, TOOTBLAN-ing outfielder was ours for three glorious years and he did everything you could want from your fourth outfielder...well, except hit, which I’ll get to later.

So why, following a perfectly Guillermo-y 2018 season, was he found as a member of the Rays? Well the answer to that is easy: in an effort to build for the future, Guillermo was shipped away for younger, more controllable talent that the team could play for longer. The team was getting younger; however, the reason Guillermo was so willingly shipped away was more due to Braden Bishop than it was Jarred Kelenic.

to the gap, to the gap!

Braden Bishop, the 70 grade fielder and active Alzheimer’s advocate, figures to be the Mariners fourth outfield type of the future. With the speed and arm to play any of the three spots in the outfield, he is capable of slotting in anywhere should any of the M’s frontline starters get injured or simply need rest over the 162 game season slog. While Bishop’s bat has yet to click at the big-league level (starting to sound familiar?), his defensive abilities ensure that he fits right in with the Mariners’ fourth outfielders of the past. Using Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average tool, this becomes clearer when looking at Braden’s predecessor, our dearly departed, plus defending, ray (and Ray) of sunshine, Guillermo Heredia.

Never an especially good player with bat in hand, in 2017 Guillermo turned in a .249 BA with an especially poor .652 OPS and 80 wRC+ to boot. However, blend this with +8 outs above average and the fourth outfielder archetype begins to sharpen. In 2018, Guillermo turned in a similar but slightly better performance with the bat, hitting .236 with a .661 OPS and an improved wRC+ of 88. In 2018 Guillermo turned in a +6 outs above average which, although a bit of a dip from the year prior, is still plus plus defense. While looking at Guillermo’s major league stats is fun and equal parts sad :’(, we must look at Guillermos minor league numbers to begin to compare the young kid and organizational legend side by side.

After getting a start playing pro ball in his native Cuba, the Mariners chose to start Guillermo in AA ball in 2016 where he subsequently put up a very Guillermo-esque 133 wRC+. While this was good, the Mariners still wished he would add some pop to his bat considering an .083 ISO in the Southern League. After crushing souls and melting hearts in AA, Guillermos services were called upon again, except this time in Tacoma where he would turn in 115 wRC+ and slightly improved .101 ISO. The head honchos upstairs had seen enough; it was time to let Guillermo pick on people his own size.

Seattle Mariners v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Its lonely on top
Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

Now I’m sure that you, your faithful LL reading self, are saying “I love Guillermo as much as the next guy, Nathaniel; however I clicked on this article hoping to read about my favorite plus defending prospect and I will be furious, furious I say, if I do not get the chance to do so.”

Alright, I suppose you’re right, but what could the Mariners possibly see in this Bishop kid to even consider shipping out a future hall of famer fan favorite like that?

Like Guillermo, it all starts in 2016 for Bishop. In A+ Modesto Bishop put up an ugly 70 wRC+ and .072 ISO to match. If this kid was expected to make the bigs in the coming years something had to change.

Wait, what is that faithful LL reader? You think Braden should drop his hands, allowing his previously flat swing plane to become loftier, resulting in more pop and drives towards the gaps?

Well wouldn’t you know, he did just that!

The UW alum saw immediate improvement in A+ the following season as his wRC+ shot all the way up to 118 and he also turned in a more serviceable .104 ISO.

With a much improved swing of the bat, Bishop was promoted to AA. Now that they’ve finally hit the same level, let’s look at how Baby Bish stacks up against our Golden Guillermo. In his half season at AA Bishop was able to put up an impressive 146 wRC+ (13 additional wRC+ over Guillermo for those keeping track at home) and an ISO of .112, .029 ISO more than Guillermo, while playing in a much less offensive friendly environment, as Bishop was in the righty-power-killing Dickey-Stephens.

Obviously, the Mariners hope that Bishop has a bit more in his bat than his organizational predecessor; however, in his first taste of the majors in 2019 it appeared that only the opposite rang true. Although very few expect him to ever achieve a .900 OPS or anything like that, the optimistic hope for 2020 is that Bishop’s on-base skills can help him hover around a still below average, .670 for the season, which in addition to his plus defense would make him a serviceable outfield option. FanGraph’s Steamer projections had Bishop at a .633 OPS and 72 wRC+ for the season which, although not great, is leaps and bounds better than what he was able to do in 2019.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively in 2019, Braden looked a lot more like the Braden that we were used to seeing in Arkansas and Tacoma, putting up an impressive 2.2 UZR in just 145 innings in the outfield, good for a 16.4 UZR/150. Known for being a rangy defender in the outfield, Bishop clearly has some wheels; however I was very surprised to see that per Baseball Savant he fell within the 92nd percentile for sprint speed in 2019. He turned in an impressive 4.20 HP to 1B time which was good for 29.6 ft per second, fifteenth in the majors (for context, our very own big boy Daniel Vogelbach turned in 4.80 HP to 1B time or 24.1 sprint speed per second) . While these numbers are obviously based out of a small sample size (20 competitive runs and 3 bolts) speed isn’t something that you will see huge fluctuations in from time to time until the player begins to age, which for Bishop won’t be for another three or four years. This speed is obviously helpful on the base paths and should continue to help contribute to his defensive prowess.

Heading into 2020, Bishop figures to be in the running for, you guessed it, the fourth outfielder role. With Mitch Haniger likely out to the beginning of May or longer, both Bishop and fellow prospect graduate Jake Fraley should have plenty of opportunities to prove their abilities. Fraley projects to have a bat that could slot him as an everyday outfielder and has impressive defensive potential as well; however, Bishop’s superior speed and defense should make him a more than serviceable fourth option for years to come...as long as he’s able to hit within a stone’s throw of sub-mediocrity. Hopefully a healthy [finds largest piece of wood available and knocks on it] 2020 helps Bishop unlock the potential he showed with the bat in the wilds of DSP, and Braden’s smile comes to fill the Guillermo-shaped hole in my heart.

Chicago Cubs v Seattle Mariners Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images