Since we’re still playing MLB friendlies for the next day or two, now is the perfect time to highlight a college player who has been skyrocketing up draft boards over the past two months: Arizona State outfielder Hunter Bishop.
There are a lot of reasons nobody really paid any attention to Bishop before he started mashing two months ago. First, the Sun Devils were once a proud program—arguably the best on the west coast, with four trips to the college world series between 2005 and 2010. Then the NCAA stepped in to vacate 44 of their 49 wins from 2007 and impose sanctions that included cutting scholarships and recruiting restrictions due to recruiting violations. It took a couple of years for the sanctions to do the trick, but by 2011 the program had seen a significant dropoff and nobody cared to watch ASU baseball.
Secondly, anybody who was paying attention to ASU baseball wasn’t looking at Bishop; they were looking at his phenom teammate Spencer Torkelson. In just his freshman year, Torkelson broke Barry Bonds’ school home run record with 25 dingers. Also, up until this year, Bishop hasn’t been that good. In 2018, his sophomore year, Bishop slashed .250/.352/.759 with five homers in 49 games. He had a 30% K rate and an 11% walk rate, which spelled 20th round pick, and that might be a stretch or a legacy, since his brother is new Seattle Mariner Braden Bishop.
Just two months have changed everything. Arizona State baseball is back on the map with a top-10 ranking in 2019 and Bishop is the reason why. Up until 2019, all he had going for him was his size and raw tools. At 6-4 and 205 pounds, Bishop won’t be mistaken for Aaron Judge, but nobody will question whether he has the physique to withstand the rigors of professional baseball. He could put on a few more pounds of muscle if he wanted to start looking like Mike Trout, but for now, he’s just a taller Michael Conforto—with speed. He is so fast that before he ultimately decided on baseball, he committed to play wide receiver at the University of Washington, the same school his brother starred at in baseball before being a third-round pick.
Hunter Bishop is all but assured to be picked much earlier than his older brother. He’s a legitimate five-tool talent. His speed is just starting to show up in the scoresheet, with eight SBs in nine attempts. He can cover ground in the outfield and turn it on rounding the basepaths. Bishop would probably have more steals if 20 of his 34 hits so far this season weren’t for extra bases. Yes, that is an XBH% of 58.82. Now that I have piqued your interest let’s look at Bishop’s college career numbers:
|Bishop||G||AVG||OBP||SLG||OPS||HR||XBH||BB (BB%)||K (K%)||SB|
|2017||51||.301||.363||.435||.847||5||14||15 (8.77)||44 (25.73)||4|
|2018||49||.250||.352||.407||.759||5||11||18 (10.91)||50 (30.30)||4|
|2019||20||.442||.552||1.039||1.591||12||20||16 (16.67)||11 (11.46)||8|
To put it mildly: he’s on a tear. Bishop is setting career highs in everything, and not just by small margins. The man is raking. To this point, his season outpaces that of near consensus top-two picks catcher Adley Rutschman (Oregon State) and first baseman Andrew Vaughn (California), who both also happen to be in the Pac-12 Conference. So far he’s more than doubling his home run output from his first two seasons combined and almost doubling his extra-base-hit output in less than half the games.
His hit totals aren’t the only thing that has impressed scouts, it’s also his complete batting approach transformation. This is more than a case of getting lucky. Bishop has undergone major swing changes over the past year to make it less of a hack.
If you’ll notice above, starting with his sophomore season, he kept the bat almost touching his shoulder in an upright position and right behind his head. This stance made for a longer swing because his hands had to make a circular motion before sending the bat forward.
Just a few months later, he quieted those hands in the Cape Cod League by taking his bat off his shoulder and keeping the barrel pointing forward, toward the middle of the field. This not only makes his swing more repeatable, but also quicker to the ball because now all he has to do to swing is move everything forward.
Finally, we look at his swing this month. The last change he made was to crouch down lower while the pitcher is delivering to further shorten his swing. Everything is moving toward a swing all at once before the pitcher even releases the ball and all the while, his hands stay still. Bishop has almost eliminated any extra movement before swinging and the results are awe-inspiring.
He’s not only hitting the ball better and more frequently because his swing is more streamlined and repeatable, but his approach has changed as well. One could certainly argue that a side-effect of his new simpler swing is he’s simply making more contact which would ultimately lead to a drop in K-rate. I believe there is something to that argument, but it has to be more than just swing adjustments that lead such a dramatic result. Bishop went from swinging at everything to the tune of a 28% K-rate to nearly one-third of that (11.46%). He’s also become more selective, walking 16.67% of the time, which is up 53% from his 10.91 mark of 2018.
With lineage, performance, and the willingness to make adjustments, there is so much to like about the new Hunter Bishop. I’m sold. He has been so good that he went from being a no-name draftee to potential top-10 pick this coming June.