Braden Bishop headed to Spring Training as a good prospect looking to bounce back from an injury-shortened campaign at Double-A.
He finished Spring Training watching Ichiro Suzuki play his final games in Tokyo, then went right back to the Minors.
All in all, it was just a bit of a head-spinning adventure for the Mariners' No. 11 prospect. Bishop was on the team's 40-man roster, but he did not expect to stay too long in big league camp. Then center fielder Mallex Smith got hurt, opening the first door for Bishop.
"It was really crazy," he said. "When I went to Spring Training, I kind of knew what it was going to look like [in terms of playing time] and then the first day I got there they told me that Mallex had an elbow injury. They told me I was going to play with him out, but I didn't know what that meant."
Bishop hit .284/.361/.412 with eight homers and 33 RBIs in 84 games at Arkansas last season before suffering a broken forearm when he was hit by a pitch, giving him plenty of additional incentive to make up for the time lost.
"I went in with the same goal, I didn't change anything," he said. "I think I just kind of played myself into a good situation with them needing an outfield bat."
Smith was not ready to go when the Mariners had to travel for two regular-season games against the A's in Japan on March 20-21, so before he even put on a jersey for Triple-A Tacoma, Bishop found himself on the other side of the Pacific. On the same trip was Suzuki, who was about to wrap up his Hall of Fame career.
"Then I was able to make that trip and the whole Ichiro experience was a movie, honestly," Bishop said, shaking his head.
When the all-time great exited the March 21 game in the late innings, Bishop took his spot batting ninth in the lineup. He went on to strike out in his only official at-bat, but it was worth it.
"It was crazy, a lot of moving parts, just a lot of different cities, a lot of different flights," Bishop said. "It was all a great experience. I learned a lot, so I was thankful for it."
When the dust settled, and with a few exhibition games left before the stateside start to the season, Bishop was optioned to Tacoma, which is where he expected to be all along. Now his baseball -- and life -- education can continue.
2019 MiLB include
"I think the biggest and most important thing to me has nothing to do with [improving] a baseball skill, it's a people skill to invest in the guys who are there and around you," said Bishop, who's hitting .271/.364/.447 through 20 games. "You know, that's the one [constant] you know is going to be there every day is those guys. I'm super thankful for the group we have here. I've learned a lot from a lot of these guys."
Everyone digs the long ball: Offense is way up early on in the PCL, particularly in terms of home runs, with El Paso's five-game sweep of Las Vegas the latest example. The Chihuahuas walked into the Aviators' new ballpark and cranked out 21 homers in the series, with Luis Urias and Jacob Scavuzzo hitting six apiece, while the home team totaled 13 blasts of its own.
Check the YA section: Now that the Padres have called up the red-hot Ty France (.423/.500/.885, 9 HR, 28 RBIs) from El Paso, that leaves Astros No. 3 prospect Yordan Alvarez as arguably the biggest PCL masher. The slugging outfielder has hit .347/.443/.867 with 11 homers and 29 RBIs in 21 games for Round Rock.
Remember the Alamo: The only PCL pitching staff with an ERA under 4.20 is newcomer San Antonio at 3.57. Veteran Burch Smith has allowed just one run over 21 1 /3 innings in four starts, while Brewers No. 15 prospect Adrian Houser has given up two runs over 16 1 /3 innings in three starts.
Chris Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.