When one-time Little League shortstop Braden Bishop made the transition to the outfield, he had no intention of doing so for the long term.
Now a standout at the University of Washington, Bishop has long since settled in to patrolling center field. Once upon a time as a 13-year-old, however, as he was going into tryouts for Northern California Travel Baseball, the outfield conversion was something of an act the San Carlos resident invented to make the cut.
Staring down the barrel of a crowded Nor Cal infield mix — which included Alex Blandino, now a former freshman All-American at Stanford who was drafted in the first round by the Cincinnati Reds in June; and Tyler Goeddel, a Hillsborough native who currently anchors the hot corner for Tampa Bay Rays High-A affiliate Charlotte — Bishop observed a thin roster of outfielders and set upon a course to make the team.
“I went to try out for the Nor Cal travel team and there was probably like 50 guys in the infield group,” Bishop said. “So, I knew that I could make the team going to the outfield, because there were like five guys in the outfield. I said to myself, ‘Just play the outfield, make the team, then switch to shortstop and tell them I played there.’ But I wound up just staying out there.”
Move pays off
The decision has proven to be a wise one. The proof is right up top of Bishop’s online player profile for the Huskies — a YouTube clip of a dazzling defensive gem during a Pac-12 matchup with USC in which the center fielder sprinted 20 paces towards the wall in right-center to make a Mike Trout-esque leaping catch to rob Omar Cotto Lozada of a home run.
And defense is merely one of Bishop’s promising baseball tools. As a sophomore leadoff hitter at Washington this year, he tabbed a .304 batting average while pacing the team with 66 hits and leading the Pac-12 with 21 stolen bases. The team thrived as well, as the Huskies posted a 41-17 record and advanced to the regional playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Now, Bishop is settling in at the top of the batting order for the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League. Entering play Thursday batting .259, Bishop hit the ground running by hitting safely in nine of his first 10 games of the season.
Bishop has yet to establish his running game, however. He has attempted six steals this summer, but has yet to swipe a bag. Most recently, in Brewster’s 3-2 loss to the Bourne Braves Sunday, Bishop was gunned down by catcher Jason Delay, who recently wrapped up his freshman season with a national championship title at Vanderbilt.
“The catchers are dynamite out here,” Brewster manager John Altobelli said. “So, if you don’t get a good jump and you don’t run on a curveball, more than likely you’re going to get thrown out, because the [pitchers] out here are quick to the plate and the catchers all have cannons.”
Speed has long been Bishop’s calling card. As a three-year varsity starter at St. Francis, he punctuated his career as a senior in 2012 by batting .433 and 22 stolen bases en route to West Catholic Athletic League Player of the Year honors. Also a standout on the gridiron, he was named WCAL Receiver of the Year, tabbing 47 catches for 712 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Bishop had offers to play football in college from Washington, Washington State and Cal, he said. As a 36th round selection by the Atlanta Braves in 2012 MLB Draft though, it was clear his future was in baseball. And with numerous collegiate offers — including from Stanford, Cal and UCLA — Bishop chose Washington because he felt at home with the mostly California-native coaching staff, including manager Lindsay Meggs of San Jose.
“I think I always knew baseball was the way I was going to go,” Bishop said. “But it was definitely a hard decision. I loved football and I still love football to this day. I still get to relive my glory days every Christmas. We have a family football game. So, that’s about all the football I’m playing.”
The Bishop family football game includes quite a bit of talent. Bishop’s brother Hunter is currently following in his footsteps as a multisport standout at St. Francis. His father Randy played shortstop at UNLV; his mother Suzy ran track at UCLA; and his grandfather Don Ross spent seven years in the big leagues during the World War II era.
Helping turn around program
With the Huskies, Bishop has quickly carved out his own legacy, as the 2014 team — just one season after finishing with a 24-32 record — proved one of the winningest teams in program history.
“I knew Washington had struggled … for the last 10 years or so,” Bishop said. “So, I really wanted to help change the culture of a program and be a little piece to the puzzle.”
Before Washington was eliminated from the regional playoffs by University of Mississippi, Bishop made his mark on the postseason by going 6 for 14 through four games. He also sparked the Huskies to an 8-0 win over Georgia Tech in their playoff opener, going 3 for 3 in support of a pitching gem by pitching ace Tyler Davis — a Mountain View native and former WCAL Pitcher of the Year at Mitty.
“Tyler Davis had been great for us all year,” Bishop said. “So, we knew giving him in the ball in Game 1 was going to be huge for us.”
With Brewster, Bishop is currently working on his swing, according to Altobelli. With the leadoff hitter heading into his draft-eligible junior season next year though, Altobelli — who managed Orange Coast College to a California Community College championship in the spring — said he expects Bishop to be a professional ballplayer by this time next season.
“I think he should,” Altobelli said. “If he progresses like he should and he gets his hands going, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t.”
And, yes, Bishop will most certainly be drafted as a center fielder.