TOKYO — It was news he wanted to tell everyone, but instead he did as he was told and kept it a secret, only telling the people it directly affected.
There was no way Braden Bishop was going to jeopardize the biggest moment of his professional career by breaking a promise to Mariners manager Scott Servais, who delivered the news.
Finally, after days of keeping it a secret, he was finally able to tell everyone else — friends; family beyond his dad, fiancee and brother; and all those coaches and teammates that helped to get him to this point.
Bishop was going to Japan with the Mariners.
“He had told me on Friday (March 8), and it was very quick,” Bishop said. “It was just out of courtesy to let my family know because, honestly the flights out here aren’t cheap. And then he gave me a formal notification on Tuesday where he just told me to soak it in and congrats. We needed outfield depth for the trip, and I told him whatever you need. I’m ready. I’m really excited.”
There was a caveat to that Friday conversation.
“He told me I couldn’t tell anyone about it because they were still notifying people,” Bishop said.
But other people found out because, well, the media found out about the decision to put Bishop on the travel roster through other sources in the organization. The burden had been lifted.
“I saw you guys tweet about it,” he said. “So that helped.”
Realistically, the decision to bring Bishop became expected once the Mariners made it clear that projected everyday center fielder Mallex Smith, who was recovering from an elbow strain, wasn’t going on the trip. The team wanted Smith to remain in Arizona to prepare for the home opener on March 28 versus the Red Sox.
Once Smith’s recovery plan was finalized, Bishop was the player most likely to go. He’s the perfect depth addition and, of the group of six outfielders on the travel roster, he’s the best defensively in center field.
Bishop made the situation easier by hitting .379 with a 1.143 on-base plus slugging percentage, two doubles, a triple, three homers and 15 RBI in 15 spring games. He gained the trust of Servais on the bases and in the field, which probably was more important to his cause.
“I try to make my goals when I come into spring training or the season, and I try to detach from the results as much as possible,” Bishop said. “You can do everything right and still get no results. My biggest thing for me is I wanted to make sure in the clubhouse that guys enjoyed being around me. I wanted to earn Skip’s trust. That was big for me. Being realistic and knowing what my role would be if I were to be here, it would be as outfield depth. Does he trust me coming off the bench to play defense or run?”
So Bishop worked to gain it.
“I made it a big point in spring training to focus on the fundamentals of baserunning and defense when I had the opportunity,” he said. “I wanted to show them they could trust me and trust the process I was going through to get better. It felt good knowing that I accomplished that goal.”
With Mitch Haniger likely starting in center field, there’s still a strong chance of Bishop being placed on the active roster for the two games versus the Oakland A’s. The Mariners could use him in center late in games and move Haniger to his normal spot in right field. It would mean Bishop would have officially have made it to big leagues. Many a prospect with more talent and potential has fallen short of baseball’s ultimate goal.
It’s a scenario he might not have believed when he arrived in Arizona for a second year of big-league spring training.
“I would’ve given you a chuckle and been like, ‘Yeah, sure, that would be nice,’ ” he said. “I still have not quite processed it yet, though.”
While he was an All-Pac-12 performer for the University of Washington, Bishop didn’t start as a touted prospect. His hitting style of singles on ground balls and soft line drives to the right side didn’t translate too well to wooden bats or the changing nature of baseball. He had speed, he could play defense, including center field at a high level, and his character graded out on the highest end.
Yet he steadily worked his way up the Mariners system since being selected in the third round of the 2015 draft as a senior. He retooled his swing and became more viable as a hitter with each season at a higher affiliate.
“Some guys you can see it right away, they are going to just go fast and fly through levels,” Servais said. “And some players they get to a level and at every level or stop they make, there’s an adjustment period. Braden has a got a really good understanding of the game and a much better understanding of where he’s at as a player. He’s one of those guys that by the end of the year, you look up and he’s figured that level out.”
Bishop’s stay in the big leagues might not be long with Smith expected back when the Mariners return from Japan. He’ll likely be optioned to Class AAA Tacoma before the home opener. But he’s made it, and he’ll be back.
“I’ve told him many times that once you are on the 40-man roster and you are in Triple A, you are an injury away or a call away from being in the big leagues,” Servais said earlier this spring. “I’d be shocked that some point — with all the stuff that happens through the course of the year — if he didn’t show up in Seattle this year to help us.”