Frisco, Texas —— Braden Bishop must be chomping at the bit right now.
The Seattle Mariners outfield prospect — Baseball Census’ reigning Minor League Player of the Year, thanks to an exceptional 2017 — is surging this year at Double-A Arkansas in the Texas League. As the calendar turns to July, Bishop can look back proudly at a video game-like June at the plate, where he hit .379/.443/.544/.987 with eight doubles, three home runs, and ten walks in 24 games.
Just eighteen months ago, the outfielder was making wholesale changes to his swing in a bid to keep his head above water against pro pitching. Twelve months ago, he’d finally done enough to claw his way to Double-A — a new frontier decidedly less welcoming than the hitter-friendly confines of his previous home in the California League. Eight months ago, it was the Arizona Fall League that forced Bishop to make yet more adjustments after facing off against countless future big leaguers. And now, thriving at the plate as a re-made speedy center fielder with sneaky pop, Braden Bishop is right on track with the Seattle Mariners, finding himself on the proverbial doorstep to the big leagues.
He just won’t acknowledge it.
He’s learned that lesson from those that have come before him.
“Naturally, as a human, there’s a tendency to want to play general manger and see where you fit,” Bishop said before a recent Travelers game. “You can say all you want ‘oh, I’m going to stay out of it,’ but it’s natural to think too far forward about that stuff. When Jake Lamb made his debut a few years ago, he would always follow things on Twitter, tracking this roster move, and that roster move, and wondering if he would go up or not. He told me they made a roster move one time when he was in Double-A, they made a trade for somebody, and it looked on paper like he was going to be the guy to go up. He was going to go from ‘dubs’ to the bigs. And it didn’t end up working out that way. It never happened. They decided to call up somebody else. But he had started getting nervous, he became anxious just assuming it might be his time, and it affected his performance.”
“Well, a couple weeks later [Lamb] was promoted to Triple-A at a random time, he never saw it coming,” Bishop continued, “and after just a week in Triple-A, he got called up to the big leagues. Just like that. Totally unexpected. So he’s really pressed on me that this sort of stuff happens when you don’t expect it, and he’s helped me a lot in terms of mentoring me with those kinds of aspects of the game.”
The Braden Bishop story is one told largely off the field; his outreach to raise awareness and research dollars for Alzheimer’s disease as he literally fights for his mother’s life is central to his identity. On the field, his swing changes and offensive adjustments over the past year tell the tale of a potential development win for the Seattle Mariners as Bishop takes his place as one of many budding acolytes at the School of the Launch Angle.
But lost in the conversation thus far has been Bishop’s tight relationship with Lamb, both former Washington Huskies —Lamb was drafted just before Bishop arrived on campus — who have become closer over the last several years. Consider Lamb to be Bishop’s big league cheat sheet, if you will; the two talk and text constantly, with a pipeline of information coming from the big leaguer to his top prospect pupil.
“You know, I try not to bother him all that much,” Bishop said, laughing. “I don’t want to pester him with questions and things, or it gets to be sort of like big brother/little brother stuff, and he’s got his own career to worry about. But he’s been extremely helpful whenever I reach out. We have a great relationship.”
“One of the best parts about Jake is that he has no ego, and he wants to help,” Bishop continued. “When I was a freshman at Washington, he had just been drafted and was finishing his first pro season. So for him to come back and say ‘hey, I can see something in you, I want to help and do whatever I can do,’ even though we had never actually played together, that was pretty awesome.”
And Braden — whose own little brother Hunter is close on the outfielder’s tail and nearly ready to enter the pro ranks himself — is more than ready to pay it all forward as he soaks it in from Lamb. Until then, though, he’s content to just keep doing the things he’s been doing, like tearing the cover off the ball and perfecting his new, ideal swing.
A year ago, any line drive would’ve been a win for Braden Bishop. Now, with a little more training to pick up some of the nuances of his barrel path, he’s starting to feel things out on a new level — and that careful introspection could lead to more months like June.
“As I continue to mature, I’m really starting to feel how I’m striking the ball,” Bishop revealed. “I’ll be hitting line drives and getting mad, and guys are like ‘uh, what?’ But it’s like, no, I can really feel it, I’m not striking the ball the way I know I should be.”
Huh. No wonder he hit .380 last month.
Editor’s Note: Below is one more particularly enlightening Braden Bishop quote that didn’t make it into the feature above. Context: Braden discusses the first at-bat of his time at last winter’s Arizona Fall League, where he faced then soon-to-be big league flamethrower Jordan Hicks in Peoria. Hicks broke Bishop’s bat with a 99 mph fastball running hard in on the outfield prospect’s hands. Just a few months later, Hicks touched 105 mph in a Major League game with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I remember what I told you right after that at-bat [against Jordan Hicks at the AFL],” Bishop recalled. “I had been so excited to go to the Fall League because I wanted to face guys like that, and sure enough, the first guy I get throws a million miles per hour. But I think it was really beneficial for me to go there and struggle a bit because it made me step back and say, ‘OK, this is what a future big league arm really looks like, this is a top-tier arm.’ It really showed me that I’ve got to be tighter on my turns, and I’ve really got to tunnel my pitches. If he’s throwing 105 or whatever with two feet of run, I can’t be looking middle-in, because then I’ll hit it off the handle. That was huge for me to learn.”
Bishop paused there, and started to grin.
“And it’s not a bad story to sit here after the fact and tell the tale of how a future big leaguer blew me up with 99 on my hands.”
While you’re here…
More people are reading Baseball Census than ever, but advertising revenues across digital media continue to fall. Unlike many sports media outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall, because our core mission is to produce extensive, high-quality prospect content that is free and available for all. To that end, we need your help. Our baseball content takes time, money, and lots of hard work to produce. If you like what you read for free on this site, please help fund Baseball Census’ continued existence by giving any amount of support securely via PayPal: