Earlier this week, we extolled the benefits of finding a true five-tool talent in the MLB draft. Teams have been looking for these elusive creatures for decades now, but it’s rare that they actually realize their full potential. It’s why we are plenty okay with the Detroit Tigers taking a lumbering slugger, because Andrew Vaughn is an incredibly polished hitter who would move very quickly through the farm system.
If they were to go in another direction, however, there are plenty of talented, toolsy prospects available. Most mock drafts have identified six players that are generally thought of as a step ahead of the rest, but MLB.com’s Jim Callis identified a seventh — Arizona state outfielder Hunter Bishop — as someone else that could crack the top five. Specifically, Callis linked Bishop and the Tigers together in his latest mock, though eventually suggested the Tigers would opt for Vaughn instead.
Let’s say previous draft trends hold true, and Vaughn falls past the Tigers at No. 5 overall — or gets taken prior to the fifth pick, as has been suggested throughout the spring. Could Bishop overtake prep outfielder Riley Greene in the Tigers’ eyes?
School: Arizona State
Draft day age: 20
MLB Pipeline draft prospect rank: 7
Previously drafted: 2016, 24th round
MLB Pipeline Scouting Grades: OF Hunter Bishop
Bishop does a lot of things well, but his massive raw power is the real draw here. MLB Pipeline gave him a plus grade on that front — likely for his in-game pop at this point — and praised him for his “majestic home run power to his pull side.” ESPN’s Keith Law noted that Bishop has double-plus (70 grade) raw power in a recent chat, and Baseball America echoed that grade in their profile.
This spring, Bishop has tweaked his approach at the plate and quieted his mechanics in the lefthanded batter’s box. The move has helped him significantly cut his strikeout rate and consistently tap into his plus-plus raw power, homering 17 times through his first 38 games. Bishop has a high-hand setup in the box, but he has solid plate coverage and improved plate discipline. He showed solid strike zone awareness in the Cape Cod League last summer, but he was too passive at times early in the count, which forced him into frequent pitcher’s counts. That hasn’t been the case this spring, and scouts are impressed with his adjustments to the point where they can now project him as an average hitter with 70-grade power.
Bishop’s jump in plate discipline has been substantial. He drew a combined 33 walks in his first two years at Arizona State, with a strikeout rate that climbed north of 30 percent in his sophomore year. This year, Bishop has already drawn 41 walks, and has cut his strikeout rate down to 21.9 percent. There will always be some swing and miss to his game, but the improvements in plate discipline and his swing mechanics have left some optimistic that he will be an average hitter. The more contact he makes, the more his tremendous raw power will shine through.
Oh, and he’s a plus runner too. Bishop has only swiped a handful of bases for the Sun Devils this yer, but evaluators have given him plus grades for his speed on the basepaths and in the field. His speed even gives him a chance to stick in center field in the pros, though Baseball America notes that isn’t very likely due to his size (6’5, 210 pounds). If he does slide to a corner, he should be an above-average defender thanks to his speed and solid arm strength.
Like many power threats, Bishop has a history of contact issues. He struck out in 30.3 percent of his plate appearances last season, and has still fanned 56 times in an Arizona State uniform this year. He also whiffed 30 percent of the time in the Cape Cod League last summer, and batted just .233 in 39 games. Bishop’s ability to shorten up when necessary and make contact will be the biggest question he has to answer as a pro. Some aren’t solid he will even be an average hitter at his peak, and while that isn’t a deal breaker given all of the other things he does well, it does limit his overall ceiling. His short track record of hitting for a high average and drawing walks is why he is projected towards the back half of the top 10, not the top of the draft.
Bishop’s short track record of success becomes even shorter when diving further into the numbers. He had “bonkers numbers to start the year,” according to FanGraphs, but has cooled off in Pac 12 play. Since April 1, Bishop has just six home runs, while his batting average has dropped from .424 to .362. Thirty-six of his 56 strikeouts have come since that date as well, a span of 24 games. This may be nitpicking — most college players will see a dip in production when facing better competition during conference play — but given previous concerns about Bishop’s ability to make contact, it’s not a good look.
Bishop’s defensive future could also hurt his overall value. He only has limited experience in center field, and could be forced to move to a corner if he adds any more size to his considerable frame. While some scouts think he could still stick in center, it seems speculative at best. If Bishop has to move to a corner, that further dents his value a bit — though it is certainly not a deal breaker. Outfielders J.J. Bleday and Riley Greene are also projected to fit into a corner outfield spot, and are ranked above Bishop on most prospect lists.
Draft position: top 10
Though he has been linked to several teams, Bishop appears to be sitting just outside the core group of top six prospects in this year’s draft. He won’t last much longer than that on draft night, though. His enticing profile and recent jump in in-game power will surely cause someone to grab him early on; Texas, at No. 8 overall, is looking for an under-slot deal, and multiple sites have linked them and Bishop together already during the draft cycle. Detroit seems likely to grab Vaughn or Greene ahead of him, but it would be a surprise if Bishop fell out of the top 10 at this point.