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Drayer: Braden Bishop, on Mariners roster for first time, making himself into more than a 4th OF

Former UW standout Braden Bishop leapfrogged Triple-A to open 2019 with the Mariners. (Getty)

TOKYO – Big league debuts are special for every player. But a big league debut on a different stage, in a different country, no doubt will carry a little more significance for those who are so lucky to have that memory.

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The years of work, often of sacrifice and almost always of uncertainly, on the way to that moment can make for an emotional first few minutes as a big leaguer. For 25-year-old Mariners outfielder Braden Bishop, it will be a moment that he began trying to process the moment manager Scott Servais told him he would be on the flight to Japan, where the Mariners are opening the 2019 MLB season with two games against the Oakland A’s.

“I’m kind of going through stages of shock and disbelief,” Bishop said. “There’s a lot of things that are going through my head. Just so many years of putting in work that nobody sees. Hearing what people say about who I am as a player, me knowing who I am as a player, my whole situation off the field, my mom. The overwhelming theme is I am just real real grateful for the opportunity to be in this clubhouse with these guys and hopefully be able to grow here and learn from everybody, it’s something I am really grateful for.”

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It is hard not to cheer for Braden Bishop. By this point his story is well known. In addition to the challenges all minor leaguers go through, he has been dealing with the news and reality that his mother has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. He has dealt with the devastating news in part by trying to better the situation for others by speaking out and starting his 4MOM charity to raise money for research for the horrible disease.

Bishop has done all of this while trying to achieve what only the smallest of percentages do in making it to the big leagues, and while his good work off the field should never be ignored, neither should the fact that he is also a ballplayer. One who has grown into a very good ballplayer despite the odds and his situation, at that.

Selected by the Mariners in the third round of the 2015 MLB Draft after a stellar college career with the UW Huskies, Bishop made enough progress through the minors in 2017 to earn an invite to Major League camp in 2018. There he had a very strong spring, hitting .370 with an .881 OPS, leaving a great first impression with Servais before being re-assigned to Double-A Arkansas.

Bishop’s 2018 season was cut short, however, after he was hit on the forearm by a pitch in early July. Had he not been injured, it is almost certain he would have been promoted to Triple-A, and there was even some talk of a possible September call-up. He had changed his game, or perhaps more accurately added to his game, which before was about speed and defense.

So while the three home runs Bishop hit this spring with the Mariners may have been a surprise for many, it was not for him.

“Coming out of the draft I was labeled as a contact hitter, glove-first baseball player – which I take a ton of pride in, I really take pride in my defense. But I knew my area to grow at the plate was more exciting than the label that I can’t hit,” Bishop said. “So I went to very far lengths to try and learn and become a student at the plate.”

While today most hitters will look to the outside for help at the plate by working with hitting coaches and performance specialists, Bishop looked inward. Nobody could personalize his training better than himself.

“I think at first I knew more than I could do,” he said. “Then as I started to learn who I was as an athlete, learn my limitations, I got to piece together a philosophy on my own that I knew worked for me. I knew that I could move and I knew that in order to hit you have to be able to move. I never want to lose sight of the athletics of the swing.”

Bishop was talking biomechemics, and he lit up when this was pointed out. It is clearly a subject he is passionate about.

Related: Led by players like Haniger, Mariners speaking new hitting language

“2015 is when I took this deep dive into the abyss of biomechanics of hitting,” he explained. “I read the Ted Williams book. I was just really curious why I heard certain things when I was growing up but then when I watched with my eyes I saw different things. That made me curious. Why are the best doing different things than what I was hearing growing up? So then that’s when I started to piece together very slowly, OK, this is what the best guys are doing. Then the data and analytics started getting incorporated and I was, wow, I saw this with my eyes and now the data is backing it up.”

As more and more numbers were being made available and analytics were incorporated more into the Mariners’ minor leagues, Bishop knew he was on the right path to perhaps something more. He continued his pursuit in and out of the season, now with the help of another former Husky, Jake Lamb of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“We knew there was more,” Bishop said. “We both just kind of dove in and tried to figure out why are we seeing different things. He was in the big leagues at the time, seeing him do it against elite pitching and it was like, this works, you can sustain this at the big league level.”

Braden is excited to see what the continued incorporation of data by the Mariners could do for him and others, not just as it pertains to competition (what can help them in games), but with development as well.

“I think the hitting side has been much further behind than the pitching side in the game, but when you are in the cage and in a controlled environment you see huge jumps in their development. I think they have done a very good job of that.”

Bishop’s arrival to the big leagues is early, a circumstance of the arm injury that held new Seattle center fielder Mallex Smith back in spring training. But when the Mariners return from Japan and their active roster shrinks to 25, Bishop’s development will continue in the minors, where he looks forward to proving he can be much more than the contact/glove guy that these days often translates into a fourth outfielder in the MLB.

“It’s been nice to see the evolution of my swing, where it’s going,” he said. “There’s a lot to improve on, but the way it is coming together excites me.”

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